Depression strikes about 350 million people globally, and in the U.S., there are 20 million sufferers of this disease. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Unfortunately for these patients, research into depression and the use of medical marijuana (MMJ) is just beginning. There is scant but relevant, data in this area of study.

Medical cannabis has been used for centuries as a remedy for depression. Four centuries ago, Indian doctors prescribed MMJ for depression. Around the same time, British physicians were also recommending marijuana for depression along with other medical maladies.

There are two theories offered by this article relating to depression and cannabis. Both affect the brain and its ability to deal with depression. One is based on the possibility that chronic stress may play into depressive states. Another is rooted in the theory that brain proteins wreak havoc with the delicate balance of its ability to fight off inflammation.

Depression Defined

Depression is a mood disorder, a label that makes psychiatric problems seem nominal. But mental illness can be severe, especially depression. The following is a list of symptoms that the depressed sufferer may experience:
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest in previously engaging activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of activity or productivity
  • Personal hygiene is neglected
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Intense fatigue
  • Digestive distress
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Anger
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Two theories of the Origin of Depression

There have been a couple of prominent studies which posited two different theories as to the source of depression in humans.

In 2014, University of Buffalo researchers considered MMJ as a treatment for depression, the cause of which they theorized as chronic stress. The school's Research Institute on Addiction (RIA) have been focusing on brain chemicals called endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids are compounds created in the body that are like marijuana's cannabinoids. The presence of these endocannabinoids means that the body has receptors for these chemicals that are also responsive to MMJ cannabinoids. These endocannabinoids affect cognition; behavior; an increase in feelings of well-being and appetite; pain; anxiety and emotional states. So, it stands to reason that once these body receptors respond to the presence of cannabinoids, these traits are mediated by the MMJ.

"Using compounds derived from cannabis – marijuana – to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression," said Dr. Samir Haij-Dahmane in a press release.

There have been no human trials yet, but research on lab animals have revealed that chronic stress may suppress the brain's production of endocannabinoids. This seems to lead to depression-like symptoms.

The introduction of medical cannabis and cannabinoids may help restore normal endocannabinoid levels. This may ease the depression, but as with all American research, more definitive studies are required to assess the efficacy of cannabinoids in humans.

The second theory, "Immune Cytokine Model of Depression" connects excess brain inflammation with depression. Inflammation then causes the release of a protein called "cytokines," a protein abundant in depressed patients. The problem is when the next body's process – the immune system – attacks these cytokines which are infecting the brain. The infection is the individual's mind. Not cool. Conclusion: In this theory, the depression involves chronic activation of the immune system.

MMJ is a potent anti-inflammatory. A 2014 Tel Aviv study found that small doses of THC reduced brain swelling. Research also confirmed that cannabis is a neuroprotective plant. It contains antioxidants which repair cells and helps to protect DNA from damage. MMJ compounds speed up recovery from traumatic brain injuries and encourage the growth of new brain cells. Further research confirmed that a decrease in inflammation in the brain seems to be tied to a decrease in reported depression.

CBD is another option as it is an antidepressant not associated with paranoia and anxiety which THC can provoke. CBD protects against some of the anxiety-producing properties of THC.

More Information, More Power to the People

There are very few studies which center around depression and medical marijuana, but preliminary evidence is very hopeful. As is the norm, U.S. research regarding this issue don't exist, but there are many anecdotal stories which attest to the powerfulness of medical cannabis in cases of depression. Further studies need to be accomplished to confirm what many weed smokers have known for years.

Cannabis helps with depression by elevating one's mood. And there is no greater weight than depression upon one's shoulders. It is debilitating. Lifting it off is soul-liberating. I know, I have been dealing with depression all my life and medical marijuana has kept me alive for the last 43 years. For that, I am grateful.