Researchers find that just one puff of cannabis can treat depression

Researchers from Washington State University took a step closer to proving that cannabis could be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.

May 4, 2018

A man smokes marijuana during a demonstration in front of the Mexican Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (COFEPRIS) in Mexico City on April 20, 2018. – Mexican marijuana consumers marked the 4/20 (cannabis day) applying for growing their own marijuana plants, arguing the risk that implies buying to illegal traffickers. (Photo by Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)

Just one puff of cannabis may be enough to treat depression, according to a new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Washington State University, who investigated the self-reported aftermath of patients’ medical marijuana use on symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.

The researchers used data from the app Strainprint, which collects information about medical cannabis patients’ dosages, the types of cannabis they’re using, and the changes that occur in their experienced symptoms as a result of using cannabis. In all, they analyzed data from nearly 12,000 app sessions, inputted by patients who use medical marijuana to treat depression, anxiety or stress.

Medical marijuana patients reported on Strainsprint that their symptoms of depression were significantly reduced by just a single puff of medical marijuana, particularly when using strains that were high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The participants also reported that taking 10 puffs or more of high-CBD-high-THC marijuana was the most effective method for reducing stress. Two puffs of marijuana containing any ratio of THC and CBD was reportedly helpful in reducing anxiety as well.

Managing patients’ depression and anxiety is a growing priority for healthcare professionals. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 20 percent of Americans (40 million adults) experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder, and roughly 16 million Americans are currently afflicted with depression.

mental health Researchers find that just one puff of cannabis can treat depression
Denver, CO. – JULY 14: Daniel Fulsom and his common-law wife, Connie Lynn Bell, have lived under a 6th Avenue bridge for a month in Denver, CO July 14, 2014. They have been homeless for four years. Connie lists a series of mental health issues attributing her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, to an abusive relationship and losing her children to social services in 2009. She said she couldn’t take the Effexor and Seroquel prescribed to her, “I felt like a zombie and I couldn’t function.” Taking a hit of marijuana Connie said, “That’s what helps me. I’d rather go to that than the stuff these doctors make.” Daniel admits that he has his own mental health issues, “since the beginning of this year I’ve had nothing but bad luck. I’m trying to get out of a depression stage right now. I don’t think about suicide, but I have a couple times this year.” (Photo By Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post/Getty Images)

Therefore, this recent study offers valuable insight into potential treatment options for adults experiencing some of the most common mental health conditions in the United States.

This is especially important given the lack of effective mainstream pharmaceutical drugs for depression, which often require patients to undergo long and stressful treatment processes. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—one of the most common mainstream treatments for depression—can take as long as four to eight weeks to begin taking effect. And in some cases, SSRI’s can even exacerbate patients’ depressive symptoms, or make them feel what some medical professionals call  “emotionally neutral.”

While mainstream treatments for depression like SSRIs undoubtedly work for some, the treatment process is long and daunting, especially compared to medical marijuana. The effects of medical marijuana are experienced almost immediately after consumption, and as the Washington State University researchers write, “Medical cannabis users perceived a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress following cannabis use.”

However, there are potential negative outcomes associated with medical marijuana use as well. According to the researchers, using medical marijuana over the long term could actually magnify the symptoms of depression. “Cannabis reduces perceived symptoms of negative affect in the short-term, but continued use may exacerbate baseline symptoms of depression over time,” reads the study’s conclusion.

This study’s methodology, which relied on patients to self-report their experiences with medical marijuana, also limited the accuracy of the researchers’ data. While these findings are a good start, more high-quality research will be necessary before any firm conclusions can be drawn. But if you are experiencing depression, at least according to the self-reported experiences of the medical marijuana patients involved in this study, one puff of medical marijuana is probably worth a try. 

May 4, 2018