What is Depression?
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses humans experience. Roughly one in ten Australians suffer from depression, with it affecting their daily life. While it is normal to experience sadness and ‘low’ moods from time to time, depression is an intense feeling of unhappiness that lasts for a long period of time. Depression is classified when an individual experiences depressive thoughts or feelings for a period of two or more weeks. Depressive disorders can include:
- Major depressive disorder
- Melancholic depression
- Psychotic depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Cyclothymic disorder
- Dysthymic disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Antenatal/Perinatal/Postnatal depression
What Causes Depression?
We do not know the exact cause of depression, however we do know that there are a few factors that contribute to its development. Usually, a combination of short and long term personal circumstances will trigger depressive mood swings that may result in a more serious diagnosis of depression. Causes of depression include:
Certain life events can affect or trigger depression. Many people experience stress that contributes to low mood states. Some of these causes include:
- Physical, mental or sexual abuse
- Physical illness
- Work stress
- Financial stress
- Death of a loved one
- Isolation and/or loneliness
Your own genetic makeup or lifestyle may also be a source of depression. This can include:
- Genes or family history
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Personality (such as self-criticism, perfectionism or low self-esteem)
- Medical illnesses (such as chronic pain or prolonged anxiety)
- Chemical changes in the brain
What are Depression Symptoms?
Depression produces negative emotions that manifest in physiological and psychological symptoms and behaviours. If you are suffering from depression, you may feel:
- Reduced confidence
Further, depression may also affect your behaviour including:
- Not wanting to leave the house
- Not wanting to leave bed
- Not getting work or study done
- Using more alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from social and family activities
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Losing interest in sex
You may also experience physiological changes such as
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle pain
- Stomach issues
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain or loss
- Lowered immune system
Medical Cannabis & Depression
Recent investigation into the correlation between medical cannabis and depression show promising results. By regulating our endocannabinoid system, medical cannabis may be able to help manage depression and its symptoms.
A study of 4,400 people in the journal Addictive Behaviours found that both chronic and casual users of cannabis experienced less depressive moods than non cannabis users.
Even for people treating other disorders, reduction of depression is a reported experience. For example, a study in Clinical Neuropharmacology showed that a reduced depression was a byproduct of using cannabis and specifically CBD to treat tremors in Parkinson’s sufferers.
This research is consistent with two studies that drew a correlation between depression and the lack of endocannabinoids in groups of people. This includes studies in both Psychoneuroendocrinology and Pharmacopsychiatry showed that women with low levels of endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG had a higher correlation with major depressive disorder.
Further, a study in the journal of Biological Psychiatry showed that an increase in CB1 receptors found in brains of suicide victims with major depression compared to others suggests a correlation between depression and endocannabinoid system abnormalities.
There is also emerging research in animals that suggests a similar outcome. A study in Frontier in Immunology BD reduces stress and depression showed reduced stress and depression in animal models.
Additionally, a study in Frontiers in Pharmacology showed that CBD decreased aggression and depression in mice that had suffered traumatic brain injury.
As more research into medical cannabis and depression emerges, many patients are talking to their doctors about various cannabis treatments for a wide range of mental health conditions.
Treating Depression with Medical Cannabis
Medical cannabis may be an effective treatment for some people living with depression. In addition to its role in regulating our endocannabinoid system, medical cannabis may be suitable for some patients as a substitute for benzodiazepines and antidepressants, subject to appropriate medical supervision. Medical cannabis may also be prescribed to treat mood, sleep and eating disorders associated with depression.
Medical Cannabis and Depression Advice
If you are already prescribed other medications for your depression then you should speak to a doctor about whether medical cannabis is appropriate for you. If appropriate, your doctor will advise how medical cannabis can be incorporated into your treatment. It is not advisable to discontinue treatment with any psychiatric medications unless indicated by your doctor. Doing so may cause adverse and unwanted side effects and/or withdrawal symptoms.
Most patients with depression who are suitable for medical cannabis will either take it in conjunction with other medications, or will otherwise slowly transition from other medications to medical cannabis under medical supervision.