It’s taken me a long time to actually sit down and write my article this month. That’s not necessarily unusual for me. I’m a procrastinator and I have a tendency to wait until the last possible minute to get things done, but this month was different. Every time I sat down to do research or start writing, I was overwhelmed. No feeling in particular that I could put my finger on, but an overwhelming feeling that drives me away from accomplishing anything productive. 2020 was a long, hard year for everyone I’ve talked to. Nothing has really changed except the date and that, too, is a bummer. With all this going on in my brain I thought, why not use this lack of motivation as inspiration?
I have no official diagnosis. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been to a mental healthcare professional ever as an adult. It’s not something I’m proud of, but medical healthcare is an entirely different conversation. The reason I’m mentioning this is because, say it with me now, I am not a doctor and my goal isn’t to try and diagnose myself or others. What I know is that I have been struggling this month and I wanted to take that, spin it around and educate myself and others about cannabis & depression & anxiety (oh my).
Why? Are You Trying to Make Us More Sad?
You might be thinking, “Kelly, what the hell? Why would you write an article about depression and anxiety at the beginning of this bright and shiny new year, you buzz kill?” And I would answer, why not? Cannabis is a big part of my life, and I imagine if you are taking the time out of your day to read our wonderful cannabis literature, it’s a fairly important part of your life as well. We know that cannabis has incredible medicinal properties, so why not do our best to understand how and why that impacts our mental health as well as our physical health?
If you use cannabis with other people, it’s likely you or someone you know has encountered anxiety that is, or appears to be, linked to cannabis consumption. Even I have had a few experiences where I’m feeling particularly anxious and the only thing that I could think was causing it was a certain strain I hadn’t tried before. Speaking from personal experience, my anxiety manifests mostly physically. My heart starts pounding, my hands sweat, I have a hard time sitting still. Sometimes I get paranoid, checking and double checking door locks or making sure every noise I hear isn’t a murderer. Now, because both my cannabis intake and anxiety have increased quite a bit over the last ten years, I can’t pick out one over the other as the primary culprit. It wouldn’t be fair.
What I can say, however, is that I have noticed that when my cannabis intake decreases, my anxiety symptoms increase. I have found that cannabis consumption helps with my social anxiety, or with things like calling the bank or going to the store. This doesn’t mean that when I use cannabis that my anxiety is cured, just that the symptoms that seem to impact my life the most are decreased enough for me to function a little more normally. It also doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days; I do, and sometimes, nothing seems to help.
Depression, on the other hand, is something that I feel is deeply personal and, as far as I’m aware, not something I deal with. What I don’t want to do in this article is make sweeping generalizations about depression or anxiety, rather to talk about my experiences and what we know in regards to science, and my experience with depression is limited. Because my personal experience is so limited, I want to keep this part short; if you or someone you know struggles with depression and has found cannabis to be a useful tool, I am so glad. If you are comfortable sharing your story with us, please send an email to email@example.com.
What We Know
What I’m going to tell you might be shocking, but when it comes to cannabis, anxiety, depression and science, we don’t know much. We’re still in the early stages of a more advanced scientific understanding of cannabis; thanks to long standing prohibitions in the US that have made it nearly impossible to perform accurate, scientific studies.
There seems to be a collective shrug of “we dunno” in the scientific community regarding cannabis, anxiety and depression, and I believe it’s because all three of those things can be incredibly subjective. In my experience, no two cannabis users have exactly the same feelings or effects from cannabis. Though the experiences may be very similar, what may have been a pain relieving miracle strain for one person might be mainly a sleep aid for someone else. That doesn’t mean the person in pain isn’t sleepy when they use that strain, it’s just not the main benefit.
This seems to be the case with cannabis, depression and anxiety as well. Studies have yet to find that cannabis causes or increases depression and anxiety, and according to Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., “Marijuana[sic] use and depression accompany each other more often than you might expect by chance, but there’s no clear evidence that marijuana directly causes depression.” This seems to be the case for anxiety as well.
A survey performed between 1998 and 2000 involving 8,598 Swedish men and women aged 20-64 sought to find out if cannabis use increased the risk of depression and anxiety. From what I can gather, this seems to be a difficult task due to something called the “direction of causality”, that basically means “which came first, the depression/anxiety or the cannabis?” They found no increased risk of depression and anxiety with cannabis use at follow-up as well as “no associations between depression/anxiety and cannabis use onset”.
With all that said, there are a few things that seem to ring true for cannabis use, depression and anxiety, and we can use these as a guideline.
What to Do
First things first; please consult your doctor if you are on any prescribed medication for depression and/or anxiety. There is not much research on the interplay between anxiety medications and cannabis, and cannabis may increase adverse side effects associated with certain medications.
While the general scientific consensus is inconclusive, there is strong evidence that your endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in stress response and mood regulation. Your body naturally produces endocannabinoids, which interact with your ECS, to help regulate a number of your body’s functions. When this production gets out of whack, the cannabinoids in cannabis step in. There are a large number of cannabinoid receptors located in the prefrontal cortex, parts of the amygdala and the hippocampus, all parts of the brain associated with anxiety processing. This suggests that cannabis compounds at certain dosages may help regulate our brain’s response to stressful stimuli, thus providing a type of treatment for anxiety, however further research is needed.
Finding a strain for this particular purpose can be tricky, but the general idea, at least for anxiety, is that a higher CBD content is going to give you better relief. Fortunately, we live in an age where we can ask our local budtender or hop on the internet. We may not yet understand how or why, but at the very least, we as cannabis consumers have been telling each other which strain has helped us with what and compiling that data. That doesn’t mean it will be perfect for you right away, but it’s a good place to start.
A common theme I found between strains suggested for anxiety (and from what I read it may help with depression as well) was the terpene myrcene. Including terpenes as a possible medicinal property of cannabis is relatively new to me and comes from the “entourage effect” theory. To quickly summarize, the entourage effect theorizes that certain effects from cannabis are the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes at different levels. Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene in cannabis, can be found in mango, lemongrass and hops and is often associated with “couch-lock”, as it has relaxing, sedative effects.
Back to Basics
Find a strain, pick your consumption method and start your trial and error process. Remember that inhalation – vaping, smoking – will take effect much more quickly, while consumption will take longer to take effect but can be much longer lasting.
I know it can seem like treating anything with cannabis is a process of trial and error, of finding what works for you and on what, but I really think that’s part of the beauty of it. There’s no one size fits all cure with a cannabis stamp on it, and what works for someone else might not work the same for you, and that’s OK! The fact that cannabis is natural and can be used as a treatment in a variety of ways for a number of ailments means there is more likely than not something that will work for what you need, you just have to find it. And there are plenty of us ready to help you with that.
As I end this, I’m grateful that I have an outlet like this to channel my bad brain days into. I hope, if you have also been struggling, that this finds you well and reminds you that even on the worst days, you’re not alone.
Kelly Mahoney worked at a medical cannabis Co-op with her mother, Laura Mastropietro, dealing mainly with helping new patients acquire their medical cards and helping them find the best strains and methods. Diagnosed at a young age with spinal muscular atrophy, she was also a medical cannabis patient and still advocates for the incredible benefits, and downright fun, of cannabis. She now lives in a prohibition state as a cat mom and gamer wife.