Marijuana is known to be effective medicine for treating a wide variety of ailments. This efficacy includes decreasing or eliminating the negative side effects of many traditional treatments, like pharmaceutical drugs and chemotherapy. Neurological conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis and diseases like cancer and Crohn’s earn most of the attention when the media covers medical marijuana.
However, the plant has shown considerable efficacy for psychological conditions like depression, bi-polar disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “I think cannabis has a lot of potential in the treatment of mental illness,” said Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor of psychiatry at the Harvard School of Medicine.
For depression, a mood disorder characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest, particular strains of cannabis have shown great efficacy in helping sufferers alleviate their symptoms. In cases of severe clinical depression, a lack of activity and productivity may plague patients. In extreme cases, sufferers may have thoughts of suicide or self-harm. The correct variety of cannabis can decrease or even eliminate these manifestations of a disease that affects more than 20 million people in the U.S. alone.
The two biggest things currently understood regarding the treatment of depression with cannabis are 1) sativa strains work better than indica and 2) low quantities are believed to be more effective than chronic use of large amounts throughout the day.
History and Controversy
Marijuana has a long history of providing relief from pain, nausea, and depression.
As early as 1621, English clergyman Robert Burton stated that cannabis was helpful in the treatment of depression. Around the same time, doctors in India were also using cannabis to treat the ailment. American physician and professor Hobart Amory Hare in 1887 celebrated the ability of cannabis to subdue restlessness and anxiety and calm a terminally ill patient’s mind. He wrote:
“The patient, whose most painful symptom has been mental trepidation, becomes more happy.”
The treatment of depression with cannabis isn’t without controversy, however. Washington, one of the four states where recreational cannabis is legal, was recently petitioned to include the term “mental illness” within the list of approved uses of medical marijuana. The request was denied by the commission, which argued that no solid scientific evidence exists to prove that cannabis is effective in treating any mental illness.
Studies have revealed that marijuana, in small amounts, may be effective in treating depression. In larger amounts, some researchers believe that cannabis may actually increase depression by causing increases in serotonin levels.
A 1997 pilot study examined the effects of cannabis on those suffering from depression. It reported that many of the participants continued their use of marijuana following completion of the study and theorized that they continued to smoke cannabis because they perceived that it relieved their symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A 2006 study entitled “Decreased Depression in Marijuana Users” published in the journal Addictive Behaviors concluded:
“Those who consume marijuana occasionally or even daily have lower levels of depressive symptoms than those who have never tried marijuana.”
A 2008 study involved the administration of THC to those suffering from depression. Employing brain scans performed by a special type of MRI, researchers found that THC was specifically responsible for reducing anxiety and fear in subjects who were exposed to pictures of threatening faces.
A 2012 study conducted by The Institute for the Study of Labor entitled “High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide” revealed that “marijuana can be an effective treatment for depression and other mood disorders” and noted a sharp decrease in the suicide rate of 15- through 19-year old males who consumed cannabis.
Scientists at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) in 2015 studied chronic stress and depression, with a focus on endocannabinoids, the body’s internal cannabinoids that closely match those in marijuana and fit the same receptors throughout the brain, nervous system, and immune system. Said RIA senior research scientist Samir Haj-Dahmane:
“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression. Using compounds derived from cannabis — marijuana — to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”
Beyond obtaining a solid sativa for the treatment of depression, patients can also seek out strains that are high in a terpene called BCP, or beta-caryophyllene. This unique terpene also acts as a cannabinoid by fitting into CB2 receptors in the brain.
Strains for Depression
Among those who advocate cannabis for depression, it is typically sativa strains that are recommended. The following list of strains are best:
- Amnesia Haze: An 80% sativa that is very energetic.
- Lamb’s Bread: A Jamaican sativa, this was one of Bob Marley’s favorites.
- Green Crack: A southern California sativa in the process of being renamed Green Dragon.
- Sour Diesel: A sativa-dom version of ChemDawg that is noted for high THC content.
- AK-47: Fruity and sweet in odor and flavor, this strain is known for its potency.
- Jack Herer: Sativa dom developed in the Netherlands that combines Haze, Northern Lights #5, and Skunk #1.
- Trainwreck: A mythic sativa from Arcata that’s big in Northern California. No one knows what’s in it, other than that it is mostly sativa by its morphology, growth patterns, and energetic, euphoric high. Use it to clean your house.
This post was originally published on June 30, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.