Some anecdotal evidence and scientific research suggest that cannabis can help with depression symptoms. However, cannabis is also a depressant, so it may increase feelings of sleepiness.

Cannabis can cause a person to feel calm and relaxed. However, for some people, cannabis is also a stimulant and a hallucinogen. Some people experience unpleasant side effects from using it.

Cannabis is not suitable for everyone. It has an adverse effect on adolescent brain development, and smoking cannabis can damage the lungs.

This article explores the potential pros and cons of using cannabis to treat depression, how to use it safely, and when to seek medical attention.

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Cannabis refers to the seeds, stems, leaves, and dried flowers of the cannabis plant. The plant contains more than 100 cannabinoid chemicals, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved cannabis for treating depression. Research into whether cannabis is effective at helping treat depression is still in the early stages. However, some evidence suggests cannabis may be beneficial for some people.

For example, in 2022, researchers conducted a retrospective study of 7,362 participants at a nationwide medical cannabis clinic in Canada. People sought treatment for anxiety and depression and completed health questionnaires at their initial evaluation and during at least one follow-up visit.

Researchers found a significant improvement between scores at the start and end of the study. Similarly, some people have indicated through self-reported studies that cannabis helped with their postpartum depression.

More scientific research is necessary to understand the effects of cannabis, CBD, and THC.

Learn the difference between CBD and THC here.

Cannabis may have links to depression. However, it is unclear if cannabis directly causes depression or whether people with depression are more likely to start using it in high amounts.

Some studies have suggested depression is a significant risk factor for developing cannabis use disorder (CUD), which is the medical term for an addiction to cannabis. It may lead people to start using cannabis more often or rely on it as a coping method.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that cannabis use can cause anxiety and paranoia in some cases, especially if a person uses it very frequently or in high amounts. There may also be a risk of temporary psychosis.

Learn how cannabis affects the body here.

There is little research on cannabis use in teenagers with depression. However, the CDC notes that the association between cannabis use and schizophrenia is stronger in people who start using cannabis during their adolescent years. Similarly, people who start using cannabis as adolescents are at a greater risk for CUD.

Cannabis may adversely impact how a teenager’s brain builds connections between the areas responsible for thinking, learning, and memory. Scientists are still researching these effects, whether they are permanent, and how socioeconomic factors may influence them.

Learn how cannabis affects brain cells here.

Before trying cannabis, it is important to speak with a doctor, especially if a person has been managing depression without support. There are several safe and effective treatments for depression that they can recommend.

If a person is interested in using cannabis to help treat their depression symptoms, there are some things they need to consider. Firstly, cannabis is not legal in all states. In places where it is legal, doctors may only recommend it for certain health conditions. These can vary from state to state.

People who can get a recommendation from their doctor to use cannabis should follow their doctor’s instructions for safe use. In addition to this, there are some general guidelines for using cannabis as safely as possible:

  • Keep cannabis stored out of reach of children and pets.
  • Use methods of consuming cannabis that are low risk, such as eating edibles.
  • When using edibles, wait for them to take effect, as they can take longer to work.
  • Start with a small amount to gauge the right dose.
  • Do not smoke cannabis around others, particularly children and adolescents.
  • Avoid using cannabis with alcohol and other drugs.
  • Check with a doctor before using cannabis alongside prescription medication.
  • Do not use cannabis before or during high risk situations, such as driving.
  • Seek medical help if cannabis causes side effects or depression symptoms worsen.

Learn about treating depression with medication here.

Cannabis can potentially cause both physical and mental side effects. They can be short or long term. Possible physical effects include:

Mental and cognitive effects may involve:

  • altered senses
  • mood swings
  • increased anxiety
  • trouble thinking clearly and problem-solving
  • memory problems
  • altered sense of time

High doses of cannabis may cause hallucinations and delusions, and regular use of high-potency cannabis may cause psychosis.

Cannabis use during pregnancy and breastfeeding could adversely impact a child’s health and development.

Anyone considering using cannabis to treat depression may also consider talking with their doctor about the benefits versus the risks.

Learn more about smoking cannabis during pregnancy here.

Although it can feel overwhelming, depression is a treatable condition. Therapy, medication, or a combination may help reduce the symptoms and address the underlying cause.

How quickly a person responds to treatment depends on the individual. The sooner a person seeks support, the sooner they may start to feel better. Speak with a doctor, therapist, or support worker for advice.

People should also contact a health professional if they use cannabis frequently, as it can lead to addiction. A person with CUD may:

  • crave cannabis
  • use more cannabis than they intended or need more cannabis to achieve the same effects
  • continue using cannabis even if it causes problems at home, school, or work
  • continue using cannabis even if they experience physical or psychological problems
  • choose to spend time using cannabis rather than engage in activities they once enjoyed
  • use cannabis in potentially high risk situations, such as driving a car or motorcycle
  • find it difficult to stop using cannabis
  • experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using cannabis

Currently, no medications have approval for treating CUD, but research shows therapies such as acceptance and commitment therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy can help.

Help is available

Seeking help for addiction may feel daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support.

If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:

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Some scientific and self-reported evidence suggests cannabis may help some people with depression. However, responses vary. Some may find it beneficial, but others may find it increases feelings of drowsiness, as cannabis is a depressant. Sometimes, cannabis can also cause unpleasant effects, such as anxiety and paranoia.

Scientists are still learning about how cannabis affects mental health. As a result, the FDA has not approved cannabis as a treatment for depression.

People who are interested in using cannabis to treat depression should talk with a healthcare professional.

Learn more about cannabis and CBD in our dedicated hub here.