Per year 4 to 10% of the Western population suffers from depression. As many as 15 to 17% of the western population has had a depression in his or her lifetime. Depression is a mood disorder and is characterized by abnormal feelings of sadness and lethargy, loss of interest and an inability to experience joy. These symptoms must be present for a considerable time to diagnose a depression .
The cannabinoid THC is known to give the user a sense of relaxation. In addition, THC can improve mood and provoke feelings of euphoria. Probably this is the reason that cannabis is considered as a remedy for depression (THC is one of the two main constituents of cannabis, CBD being the other one). In this article we will discuss the scientific literature on this subject
The research so far on the relationship between cannabis and depression is ambiguous. There are studies which found that users of cannabis suffer less from depressive symptoms, studies that fail to find an association between cannabis use and depression, and studies showing that cannabis just exacerbates depressive symptoms .
THC and depression
It seems that the effect of cannabis on depression can go either way. A possible explanation for this may be found in the way cannabis works. Several studies support the idea that THC has an antidepressant effect by acting on a cannabinoid receptors in our body, the receptor CB1 to be specific. For example, we know that the effects of THC can be mimicked by other substances that act on CB1 receptors. So that explains the anti-depressant effects of cannabis, but why does cannabis sometimes just seem to cause depression instead? It is suspected that when people use cannabis excessively during their adolescent years, this results in a reduced number of CB1 receptors. This makes this group more at risk for depression later in their lives. This idea is supported by research which showed that suppressing CB1 receptors in healthy people causes them to experience anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
CBD and depression
In several studies CBD was also found to have an antidepressant effect . Most of these studies used lab animals. But unlike THC, CBD hardly has any effect on the CB1 receptor. One of the receptors CBD does work on is called 5HT(1A). Serotonin (a neurotransmitter produced by the body itself) also works on this receptor. The activity of serotonin plays an important role in depression. Most antidepressants work by stimulating the activity of serotonin. Because CBD acts on the same receptor as serotonin, this may explain the antidepressant effects of CBD.
Advice for the use of cannabinoids against depression
There are indications that CBD may be effective against depression. However, there are currently no clinical studies (conducted with human subjects) that support this hypothesis. That means that there is also no concrete information about an effective dose. However, CBD is an agent that can be used safely, so experimenting with different dosages is possible. If you are already using medication for depression, always consult your prescribing doctor or specialist first. Click here to read more about safe use of cannabinoids.
- Pertwee, R.G. (2014). Handbook on cannabis. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- De Mello Schier, A.R., de Olieveira Ribeiro, N.P., Coutinho, D.S. et al. (2014). Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of cannabis sativa. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets, 13(6):953-60.
- Not available online.