Depression is a complex mood disorder that often leaves sufferers unable to work, eat, sleep or have fun due to their inability to feel joy or pleasure.
Depression can generally be categorized into 3 categories:
Major depression: Patients with major depression usually experience at least 5 of the above symptoms consistently for at least 2 weeks. These symptoms will typically interfere with a person’s commitments (be it work or study) and his/her ability to eat and sleep.
Major depressive episodes can be recurring or can take place suddenly following the death of a loved one, a breakup, or another life event. A major depressive episode can be so severe as to lead someone to attempt suicide.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD): PDD involves the same symptoms outlined above but usually persists for at least 2 years. Whereas major depression can be a relatively short burst of depression, PDD can be ongoing for long periods of time.
Bipolar disorder: Bipolar, also sometimes referred to as manic-depression, is characterized by extremely severe mood swings, ranging from extreme highs (known as mania) to severe lows (depression).
What are the Causes of Depression?
Abuse — physical, sexual or emotional
Conflict — with family, friends or loved ones
Loss — such as the death of a loved one
Major transitions or life events
Stress — chronic stress is one of the leading causes of depression
Symptoms of depression vary and may include:
Persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety.
Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt worthlessness, and helplessness.
Restlessness or strong irritability.
Disinterest in hobbies and other activities.
Fatigue, energy loss, and a lack of motivation.
Chronic, untreatable physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, or pain.
Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and making decision.
Insomnia or oversleeping.
Lack of appetite or overeating.
Suicidal thoughts and/or tendencies
Traditional treatments for depression
Treatment of depression is unique to you and the severity of your case. It’s possible to successfully manage and treat mild, moderate, and severe depression. Mild depression may respond well to psychosocial treatments, such as psychotherapy (also referred to as “talk therapy”). Drugs usually aren’t recommended as a treatment for mild cases of depression. Psychological treatments, such as behavioral or interpersonal psychotherapy, are also a good first step for people who have moderate to severe depression.
Cannabis vs. Antidepressants
Antidepressants are another tool some doctors use for more severe depression cases. Examples include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants. Drugs can carry potential side effects and should only be used under a doctor’s supervision. Antidepressants must be used with caution in children and teenagers with depression.
“A lot of people report using cannabis effectively to treat depression,” says Zachary Walsh, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who heads a research lab focused on marijuana and mental health. But whether cannabis has actually been proven to help with depression can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. The answer is more complicated because there are different types of depression, explains Walsh.
Generally speaking, depression is defined as the feeling of sadness or hopelessness over an extended period of time. While researchers can’t completely confirm if marijuana is effective for treating depression, Walsh points out that other medicines fall into the same problem. He says that in some cases, typical antidepressants are no more effective than a placebo and have side effects that may be more severe than those of marijuana.
How Cannabis Can Help?
For example, a 2015 study showed that cannabis could help to restore some of the chemical imbalances in the brain caused by chronic stress. Using a rat model, neuroscientists at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions found that the levels of endocannabinoids (chemical compounds produced naturally by our body’s endocannabinoid system) in the brain can drop due to chronic stress.
Endocannabinoids have been shown to play an important role in managing a variety of physiological and mental processes, including appetite, pain, and anxiety. The fact that stress can hinder the production of these endocannabinoids could be one of the reasons it can lead to depression in susceptible individuals.
The researchers found that cannabis was an effective way to restore cannabinoid levels in the brain, and therefore suggest that cannabis could serve to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression and even stabilizing moods. Depression or, to be exact, depressive episodes are also known to increase inflammation in the brain. New research suggests that some of the cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis can have anti-inflammatory effects, which could also help manage symptoms of the disease.
In 2014, scientists from Tel Aviv University found that low doses of THC reduce brain swelling. The study, also conducted on mice, used extremely low doses of cannabis that did not produce any psychoactive effects. This suggests that cannabis may be an effective way of treating neurodegenerative disease and even possibly the brain inflammation caused by depressive episodes.
Other studies also claim that cannabis is a neuroprotective plant that could help in the treatment of mental disorders. Cannabis can also treat individual symptoms brought on by depression, such as insomnia, appetite disorders, or chronic pain.
Patients with depression commonly lack appetite, and experience trouble sleeping. Cannabis has already been shown in numerous studies to help treat both of these issues.
THC and CBD, the two main active compounds in cannabis, are also exceptional painkillers, which may also help to treat the chronic pain experienced by patients with depression.
Treating these individual symptoms may also help alleviate the effect the condition has on an individual.