Medical marijuana could be used to treat depression

American researchers have suggested that marijuana could help to treat depression. Scientists from the University at Buffalo‘s Research Institute on Addictions say that in many cases, depression is triggered by long-term stress.

Marijuana has been proven to reduce stress and is sometimes prescribed for anxiety in U.S states where medical marijuana is legal. (It’s also used for glaucoma, nerve pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy-induced nausea.) Now it could be recommended for depression, too.

Senior research scientist at the institute Samir Haj-Dahmane and his team studied endocannabinoids, which are brain chemicals that act similarly to the effects of Cannabis sativa (AKA: marijuana). These chemicals affect movement, thought, and emotions, and low levels are linked to increased stress.

The researchers propose that supplementing a depressed person’s natural endocannabinoids with medical marijuana could be a useful treatment. This would provide another option for the 30% of patients who find anti-depressants don’t improve their symptoms.

They haven’t progressed to human clinical trials yet, but hope to do so in future, and say that people with PTSD have reported that marijuana makes them feel better. Haj-Dahmane and his colleagues will now focus on finding out whether they can successfully use the marijuana extract cannabidiol in animals without them becoming dependent on it. I guess improving a patient’s mood by creating a new addiction wouldn’t be considered a fair trade-off…

Image via M a n u e l’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley