For anyone struggling with anxiety or depression, there is no ideal treatment option. Talk therapy works about half the time, but it’s not always available, affordable, or convenient. Antidepressant drug treatments also work about half the time, but some people may be put off by the potential side effects, such as illness and loss of appetite, and the risk of what is called a “stop syndrome”. Or “withdrawal syndrome” – including influenza – like symptoms and insomnia. For these reasons, researchers are always on the lookout for alternative treatment options.
According to a new study from the University of Medicine of South Carolina published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, a promising candidate in this regard is cannabis – a drug that many states in the US have already licensed for other medicinal uses, although it remains illegal in the UK.
If you’ve ever used cannabis recreationally and experienced a high or calming effect, you will understand why the drug might have potential as an antidepressant or anti-anxiety treatment. Indeed, research conducted at the Community Forensic Mental Health Service in Brisbane, Australia on the subjective effects of cannabis shows that feelings of euphoria, relaxation and pain relief are a common experience.
On top of that, there is also research on mice that has shown the possible antidepressant effects of cannabis. These type of studies usually involve the mouse being forced to do something stressful (like an exhausting swim) to model the effects of depression. A study by a team from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, found that giving mice cannabis after the stressful experience has some sort of therapeutic effect for them.
Learn more about depression:
It is important to keep in mind that cannabis has two main ingredients: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the high, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has a relaxing effect and which you may have. -be seen to be sold as a dietary supplement added to coffee or brownies – although usually in small amounts which are unlikely to have much of an effect.
Part of the appeal of cannabidiol, in particular, as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety, is that it seems less likely to induce the type of withdrawal effect seen with existing antidepressant drugs.
For the new study, the US team led by Erin Martin recruited hundreds of participants who had symptoms of depression and / or anxiety and were already taking medical cannabis to help relieve their symptoms or were interested in do it – the latter group acted as controls. The researchers then completed further investigations over the following years to see if any of the witnesses had started using cannabis and if any of the participants’ anxiety and depression treatments had changed.
The most promising results were for depression – participants who used cannabis at the start of the study reported weaker symptoms of depression than those who did not. Plus, they also reported better sleep, less pain, and better quality of life.
Perhaps even more compelling is the finding that participants who started using cannabis later in the study also showed a reduction in their symptoms of depression compared to participants who did not start using cannabis – in fact, the latter group showed no change in their symptoms from their baseline scores at the start of the study. Martin and his team found these results encouraging: “These combined cross-sectional and longitudinal results show a consistent antidepressant effect of medicinal cannabis,” they wrote.
Learn more about psychotropic medicine:
The results for anxiety were less striking but still positive. Although there was no difference in baseline anxiety symptoms between participants who took cannabis at the start of the study and those who did not, participants who started using cannabis more late in the study reported reduced anxiety symptoms compared to participants who never used cannabis. .
The study made headlines around the world, suggesting that cannabis could be a useful treatment for depression and improve quality of life, so how excited should we be?
It’s important to note that this was not a properly controlled randomized trial – in fact, it wasn’t even close. Participants were recruited on the basis of their interest in exploring the medicinal benefits of cannabis, which increases the likelihood of so-called “wait effects” or placebo effects – which is exactly the sort of thing. something that the appropriate tests are designed to control. The researchers acknowledge in their article: “Placebo-controlled clinical trials are needed to further explore the potential effectiveness of CBD in treating anxiety and depression,” they write.
The researchers also relied on participants’ testimonials for just about everything – whether or not they used cannabis, what type it was, and the effects it could have had. In fact, more than a quarter of participants using cannabis in this study said they were not sure what type of cannabis it was. Most of those in the know said their cannabis was CBD dominant.
However, we don’t know what doses the participants in this study were using, or what role other ingredients played in their particular cannabis. Likewise, if you buy cannabis off the street, chances are you don’t know its strength or what balance of THC and CBD it has. Additionally, a typical cannabis leaf will contain dozens of other ingredients that can have their own physiological effects.
In short, even if the positive results of this study are real, we are still very far from knowing what type of cannabis, and at what dose, would be optimal for treating depression and anxiety. Additionally, it should be remembered that cannabis use has been associated with an increased risk of psychosis, especially for people with an existing vulnerability. There is also evidence from a study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada that forms of cannabis high in THC – the kind you’re likely to take recreationally – might actually contribute to an increased risk of long-term depression. , although the jury is still out on this issue.
Overall, while these new results are promising and offer hope for new treatment options for treatment and anxiety in the future, we are still a long way from the day when your GP will prescribe a treatment for you. treatment of spliffs to improve your mood or calm your nerves.
WARNING: Cannabis is a Class B drug under UK law. Anyone caught in possession of such substances faces up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. More information and support for those affected by substance abuse issues can be found at bit.ly/drug_support