Study Finds Cannabis Aids Treatment-Resistant Depression

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Treatment-resistant depression is common. Around 30% of people with depressive disorders have a form of depression that is resistant to treatment offered by traditional pharmaceuticals. This means that mood stabilizers and SSRIs do not work to alleviate their depression symptoms.

A recent study out of the Journal of Psychopharmacology called “Cannabis-induced oceanic boundlessness” found that large doses of cannabis can help improve symptoms of treatment-resistant depression and other mental ailments, including distress related to cancer, and even dependence on cigarettes and alcohol.

The study’s author states that THC, the compound in cannabis that produces the majority of its psychoactive effects, is “comparable to those identified in trials of psilocybin that precede relief from cancer-related distress, treatment-resistant depression, alcohol problems, and cigarette dependence.”

The study found that high doses of cannabis resulted in 17-19% of people with treatment-resistant depression and distress reporting experiencing “breakthroughs” for the better in their mental health. Psilocybin was still reported as offering more positive mental “breakthroughs” for people with treatment-resistant depression, 59% of respondents.

The study defines this breakthrough or feeling of “oceanic boundlessness” as mystical experiences, which often proceed a change in mental health. These mystical-type experiences are measured by “unity, spirituality, and insightfulness on the 11-Dimension Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire or comparable self-report scales,” its authors say.

This study is not alone is examining notions about cannabis and mental health. Cannabis and its effect on mental health have had a sordid relationship in the science community for the past century, largely because cannabis was not allowed to be clinically researched. Even today, cannabis has restrictions in place by the DEA so that only cannabis grown in their labs could be researched, and that research could not be done on the cannabis being sold in legal markets in the U.S. In May of 2021, the DEA says it’s “nearing the end of its review” and will anticipate changes to research of cannabis.

Anxiety and depression are among the most common illnesses in the United States with an estimated 40 million people suffering from some form of mental issue. Experts say these numbers have only been compounded by the stress of the pandemic. In adolescents, an estimated 3.2 million 12-17 year-olds in the U.S. suffer from depression and over 17.3 million young adults over the age of 18-26. It is estimated that 30% of adults and 60.1% of adolescents who are depressed never receive treatment.

In today’s regulations for every medical marijuana legal state, not one of them lists depression as a qualifying condition for a medical card. Several states list PTSD and anxiety as mental health qualifying conditions, but depression has long been left out of the medical marijuana efficacy conversation. One study that gained lots of attention, but relies on less of a data pool than other studies cited here, is this 2019 study linking cannabis to higher rates of psychosis.

It’s not the only study that has come out on cannabis and mental health within recent years. A research paper “When they say weed causes depression, but it’s your fav antidepressant”: Knowledge-aware attention framework for relationship extraction.” This research team looks at self-reported data across Twitter and asks the question, is cannabis causing depression or is it a potential treatment for depression? Have people been self-medicating? It found that people do use cannabis for depression, but the paper is limited in that it doesn’t differentiate CBD and cannabis, so the anxiety and depression reduction effect cannot be pinpointed to cannabinoids CBD or THC separately. There are many studies that have found CBD reduces anxiety.

Additional research suggests that people who become adult medical marijuana patients may have self-medicated with cannabis to reduce their own depression and anxiety before it was legally prescribed to them.

The pandemic stress and trauma has increased American’s dire need for mental health solutions. One study “Adult PTSD symptoms and substance use during Wave 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic,” found that first wave of COVID-19 could be correlated to spikes in substance use. It found 13.4% of women and 13.2% of men reported significant substance use increase following the pandemic. The most “stressed” out of these people were adults aged 18-35, people who feel they contracted COVID, and also people who lost their jobs or incomes due to the pandemic.