How Marijuana Could Worsen Depression Symptoms
Current research on how marijuana affects mental disorders is mixed, but the public perceives the relationship differently. About 50% of adults believe cannabis relieves symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, a 2018 national survey reported. Of the more than 16,000 US adults surveyed, only 15% believed cannabis could make these symptoms worse.
A study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open questions this perception. The researchers tracked the cannabis habits of more than 16,000 people in 11 years and found that people with depression were about twice as likely to use marijuana as people without depression.
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“[T]These results are worrying as both heavy use and depression are associated with an increased risk of cannabis-related harm, ”the study’s authors write.
How cannabis affects depression both positively and negatively is not yet fully understood. One study reported that cannabis could relieve stress-related depression, and Canadian researchers found that marijuana was an effective antidepressant at low doses.
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However, a landmark 2017 study concluded that this is the case for people with depression “Cannabis reduces the perceived symptoms of negative influence in the short term, but continued use can worsen the basic symptoms of depression over time.”
The fact that marijuana may worsen depression over time worried the researchers in the latest study, as they saw a “worrying” trend between the two. These researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to track the marijuana use of 16,216 US adults ages 20 to 59 between 2005 and 2016. Among those participants, 1,413 received a positive diagnosis for major depression by Patient Health Questionnaire 9 – A Survey Doctor Use this option to objectify the severity of the depression.
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The number of people with major depression hasn’t really changed in the eleven years, but marijuana use has increased dramatically, especially among people with depression. People with depression were 46% more likely to use marijuana in 2005, but 130% more likely to use marijuana by 2015. The likelihood that people with depression would use marijuana almost every day rose even further. In 2005 they used cannabis 37% more frequently on more than 20 days a month, but in 2015 they used 216% more frequently.
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“These results suggest that over time, a higher proportion of people with depression used cannabis,” the study authors wrote. “This could be the case as more people with depression use cannabis for self-medication, which may be influenced by media and advertising promoting cannabis as beneficial for health.”
Although their analysis showed this association, the researchers found that further study is needed into the possible explanations and causes of the increasingly strong association. Until then, the authors recommended new information campaigns about the possible risks associated with cannabis and depression.