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Marijuana Helps Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia: Study

A recent study of people with clinical depression found those using Cannabis had lower depression than those who weren’t


A study of people diagnosed with clinical depression found those using Cannabis had lower depression scores than those who didn’t, reports Forbes. Researchers also found those who began using marijuana in a follow-up saw a reduction in both depression and anxiety symptoms.

Depression affects more than 300 million people globally, according to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. It is one of the most debilitating medical conditions in the world. In the USA, generalized anxiety disorder affects up to 4% of the population. That’s as many as 9 million people nationwide.

“Anxiety and depressive disorders are highly prevalent,” Erin L. Martin, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate at the Medical University of South Carolina, told PsyPost. “Traditional antidepressants may effectively treat these disorders in a lot of people, but they do not work for everyone and can have unpleasant side effects.”

Many Patients Turn to THC and CBD

As an alternative to pharmaceuticals, many people with anxiety and depression try marijuana products containing THC or CBD, or both.  However, scientific evidence of the efficacy of marijuana products to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression have not been conclusive.

“We conducted this study to determine if people that used medicinal cannabis products to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression reported improvement in these symptoms, as well as in other important areas like sleep and quality of life, relative to people that did not use medicinal cannabis,” Martin explained.

To conduct the study, published recently in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers recruited a group of participants who reported having depression, anxiety, or both. Of them, 368 used medical cannabis users, while 170 said that they did not but were considering doing so. 

During a baseline assessment, participants answered questions about their cannabis use. They also completed assessments that gauge anxiety, depression, recent pain, quality of life, and sleep quality. Participants were invited to complete follow-up assessments every three months over a period of three years. Those enrolled in the study completed an average of two assessments during the course of research.

Cannabis Users Had Lower Levels Of Depression

Among the study participants, 34% reported having anxiety, 15% reported having depression and 51% said they had both conditions. More than two-thirds (69%) also said they chronic pain disorder. CBD-dominant cannabis products were the most popular, with 82% of study participants reporting their use. Nearly a quarter (23%) reported using THC, 7% said they used THC and CBD, and 5% used products with another cannabinoid. 

The participants who used marijuana at baseline, particularly CBD-rich products, reported lower levels of depression than nonusers. Those who used marijuana also reported higher quality of life, with better sleep and less pain in the past month. They were more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression that did not rise to the level of clinical concern. 

Anxiety levels did not differ between marijuana users and nonusers at the onset of the study. Participants who weren’t marijuana users at the beginning but began using Cannabis medicinally showed reduced depression and anxiety. They also showed improvements in quality of life.

More Study Needed

“Medicinal cannabis products, especially products high in CBD, may help to treat symptoms of depression, improve sleep, and increase quality of life,” said Martin. “There is also some evidence that medicinal cannabis may alleviate symptoms of anxiety, particularly if administered over an extended period of time, but this is less clear from our results and warrants further study.”

Authors of the small study reported several limitations of the research. These include a reliance on self-reporting and other factors. They recommended further investigation to explore efficacy and dosage.

“This is an observational study in a convenience sample, so it is possible that the results we observed could be partially attributable to a placebo effect or to people being more likely to complete the study if they found medicinal cannabis products effectively treated their symptoms,” Martin explained.

“Randomized, placebo-controlled trials on the antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of medicinal cannabis are needed,” she added. “Furthermore, it is still unknown how people should be dosing medicinal cannabis products in order to achieve the best effect (How much? How long? What cannabinoid content?) This should also be explored in future research.”

The study, “Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Effects of Medicinal Cannabis Use in an Observational Trial,” was published by the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry last month.

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