Cannabis and Depression: Treatment or Danger?


using drugs to treat depression


With many states changing laws about marijuana use, from allowing medical marijuana for certain conditions to legalizing its use recreationally, many questions are arising about the safety and uses of marijuana.

What is cannabis and how is it used?

Cannabis sativa and cannabis indica are plants in the nettle family that have grown wild for centuries throughout the world. They have been used for textile products as well as being a recreational drug. Herbal cannabis, also known as marijuana, is the most popular type of cannabis for use as a recreational drug. There are hundreds of varieties, or strains, of cannabis with varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The most common way to use marijuana is by way of the dried leaves or buds which are smoked and inhaled. When smoked, the compounds in marijuana are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the brain and throughout the body.

Effects of Cannabis

The pleasant effect of smoking marijuana is called a “high.” This high can include a sense of relaxation, happiness and euphoria. It makes music sound better, colors appear brighter and normal activities seem more fun. Cannabis also has negative effects, however. At higher doses, cannabis can produce feelings of anxiety, panic and even paranoia. Some users can even experience hallucinations and delusions.

Long term use has been associated with reduced motivation and even depression. It has been suggested that long-term use can be associated with difficulty in concentration and use and organization of information in the brain which can last for several weeks after use. This can affect student learning and job performance, at least in the short-term. However, one study done in New Zealand with 1265 children followed for 25 years did not find a direct connection between marijuana use and poor school performance. Although there was a correlation, researchers believe that marijuana use simply made these students less likely to keep up with homework.

Mental health problems

There is much evidence that people with serious mental illness, including depression, are more likely to use cannabis, or have had long-term cannabis use. However, it is unclear whether cannabis use causes depression or depression increases the likelihood of cannabis abuse.


The exception to this rule is with children and teens who use marijuana. Some research evidence exists that young people who used cannabis daily were far more likely to develop depression later in life. Also, research exists that indicates that young people who may be predisposed to schizophrenia are more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life when cannabis was used in childhood.


Psychologists and researchers appear to be split on the helpfulness of marijuana in treating depression. Some believe that marijuana has the capacity to worsen depression. Fatigue and low motivation are symptoms of depression, and are also side effects of using marijuana. In addition, some believe that marijuana contributes to depression by dulling energy and motivation. So why has marijuana become legalized in some states to be used as a treatment for depression? On the other side of the argument, research exists that shows that within the past few years in states where legalization for medical use has occurred, there has been significant decrease in suicide rates. In addition, some argue that although marijuana has negative effects or side effects, all antidepressant treatment options on the market also have side effects and some long-term negative effects.


What is the verdict? The jury is still out on marijuana use and depression.