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Marijuana and Mental Health Disorders: Can Cannabis help with Anxiety and Depression?

 (8 minute read)

To Blaze or Not To Blaze: That is the Question

The research regarding mental health disorders and cannabis use is, frankly– a clusterfuck. So we at The Green Blazer want to help you decide what is best for you and your body chemistry. We believe you should be able to make the decision about your own body 😉.

But first, some notes: 

Here are some things to consider about those studies that have found "worsened symptoms" of anxiety and depression. 

#1 Chicken or the Egg argument

 Many studies cite that cannabis use can cause worsened symptoms of anxiety and depression, but there is a major issue with the research (5, 6). They do not determine whether individuals had a mental health disorder BEFORE USING CANNABIS. 

What sounds more likely to you, someone started smoking because they felt sad or stressed or that you smoked and then felt sad or stressed? Hmmm… probably the first one, right?!

Researchers claim the chicken came first, but really it is the EGG! 

Researchers trying to make that connection:

comedic image of shocked man holding two broken wires

#2 This one time at band camp…

Second, most of these studies do not look at genes.  Mental health disorders and genes are like brother and sister. It is difficult to trust any research that does not include the role of genetics.

These studies also seem to prefer to cite anecdotal events about someone getting too blazed up and freaking out or a negative experience for a first-time user. One of our good pals here at GB ate way too much brownie for her first time getting high and then started saying she was going to have a heart attack and proceeded to take off her pants😂 We also knew someone who was rear-ended in their car last week so why don't we ban driving too? And don't forget that food poisoning episode from that chicken sandwich has us thinking we should ban chicken while we're at it. And on and on and on. Got it? 

Anecdotal stories play well to human emotion and in political theatre, but they are mostly one-off bullshit storytelling used to manipulate our human emotions. Another reason the push for legalization is so important, to actually allow university-level talent to run controlled, double-blind experiments with larger sample sizes to get some credible data. 

#3 Wait, WTF is TikTok again? →Teen brains do not equal adult brains… 

Finally, most of the research citing anxiety and depression symptoms increasing, are of teens! Don't get us wrong, The Green Blazer wants teens to stay safe, but what about us responsible adult smokers? Teens should not be smoking. Period. Adolescents' brains are still developing, so it is no surprise that a drug may affect their brains differently than ours. Remember the reaction your teenager gave you when you took their phone away for a day? Yup, it seemed like depression that time too. 

Now here is why the EGG came first! 

Depressive Disorders

The Good 

Cannabis has been cited as having antidepressant effects since as early as 1845, and there is a lot of research that depression symptoms lessen with marijuana usage (4). In a systematic review, 7 studies cited mood improvement among individuals with diagnosed depression (10). It also showed to improve mood in patients with chronic pain, such as people with multiple sclerosis (12). Something else that is super interesting is that it has also shown to decrease the likelihood of a major depressive episode (such as in bipolar disorder) (2).

There was also a study done that focused on the connection between marijuana use and depression as it specifically relates to Negative Urgency (NU) or the tendency to act rashly while experiencing a negative mood state. Don’t fade out on us just yet; that fancy term just means when you are in a bad mood, if you do something without thinking of the consequences, then you call that your NU.

The study found that Major Depressive Disorder (extreme depression for many months) was associated with a higher NU for cannabis problems. In other words, extreme bad moods caused them to reach for vices (4). Shocking! Bad moods cause you to want items that make you feel better. 

So what do you think about the side effects for you? We guess that you have used marijuana feeling sad and felt better. Happy hour at the bar after work anyone? Kind of the same thing, right?  

The “Bad” 

Information on the cons of using cannabis for depressive disorders is limited. The only research citing cons are conducted when TEENS use the drug and have depression later in life *scoff*🙄. 

There is also research that cannabis use and depression happen at the same time. This does not mean that cannabis causes depression. In fact, a study conducted over 9 years surveying 16, 216 individuals found that people who were already diagnosed with depression were more likely to use cannabis after the diagnosis (3). People with suicidal thoughts were also found to have suicidal thoughts prior to smoking weed versus cannabis causing the thoughts of suicide (1). 

 This refutes much of the research that cannabis causes the symptoms of depression. In this scenario, it sounds like the EGG (depression disorder) came first, right? 

funny picture of dog in eggshell

Verdict on Depression: It’s safer than alcohol and painkillers

More research suggests a positive outcome for individuals with depression than a negative outcome at this time, especially when it comes to the other options like alcohol or the ones that doctors loved to prescribe– opiates. Cannabis has been used as an antidepressant for hundreds of years. With that being said, always smoke safely and talk to your mental health care provider in addition to self-medicating. 

Anxiety Disorders 

The Good 

There are many researchers who cite that marijuana relieves anxiety symptoms. In a systematic review, 8 studies reported anxiety relief as a primary or secondary benefit of marijuana usage (10). Other studies cite assistance in alleviating chronic pain, improving sleep quality, insomnia, anxiety relief, and even improved depression symptoms (13, 11). More specifically, in one study 93 percent of participants reported that cannabis helped their depression and anxiety symptoms (9). 

Cannabis also has benefits for Social Anxiety disorder by reducing fear at social gatherings (7, 5). Green Blazer himself definitely needs a gummy to get him through that Saturday BBQ with the in-laws. The IDGAF feeling hits hard and it can be glorious. 

The “Bad” 

One of the only studies analyzing adult effects of marijuana was unable to verify the association between anxiety and cannabis use in adults, and results were inconsistent with previous studies (7).

 This same study also cites upticks in adult depression and psychotic symptoms. That being said, they are also honest that their research is correlational and not causal– meaning that other factors like genes could be more important to this uptick. 

Verdict on Anxiety: A little social lubricant?

Overall, anxiety in adulthood could benefit from taking a couple hits, but you should listen to your own body. Also, be sure to get mental help from a professional if you think you have a mental health disorder in addition to self-medicating. 

There may also be additional promise for those who have social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is typically treated by practicing social skills. So a little blazing experiment that relieves the pressure, but allows you to still function normally, probably can’t hurt. 

If you enjoyed this article and want to take a deeper dive into the research on mental health in general and check out our mental health and cannabis article → here

  1. Beautrais, Joyce, P. R., & Mulder, R. T. (1999). Cannabis abuse and serious suicide attempts. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 94(8), 1155–1164.
  2. Deckman, DeWall, C. N., Way, B., Gilman, R., & Richman, S. (2014). Can Marijuana Reduce Social Pain? Social Psychological & Personality Science, 5(2), 131–139.
  3. Gorfinkel, L. R., Stohl, M., & Hasin, D. (2020). Association of Depression With Past-Month Cannabis Use Among US Adults Aged 20 to 59 Years, 2005 to 2016. JAMA Network Open, 3(8)
  4. Gunn, Jackson, K. M., Borsari, B., & Metrik, J. (2018). Negative urgency partially accounts for the relationship between major depressive disorder and marijuana problems. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, 5(1), 10–10.
  5. Hoch, Niemann, D., von Keller, R., Schneider, M., Friemel, C. M., Preuss, U. W., Hasan, A., & Pogarell, O. (2019). How effective and safe is medical cannabis as a treatment of mental disorders? A systematic review. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 269(1), 87–105.
  6. Kedzior, & Laeber, L. T. (2014). A positive association between anxiety disorders and cannabis use or cannabis use disorders in the general population--a meta-analysis of 31 studies. BMC Psychiatry, 14(1), 136–136.
  7. Schier, Ribeiro, N. P. de O., Silva, A. C. de O. e, Hallak, J. E. C., Crippa, J. A. S., Nardi, A. E., & Zuardi, A. W. (2012). Cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent, as an anxiolytic drug. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 34 Suppl 1, S104–S117.
  8. Shalit, & Lev-Ran, S. (2020). Does cannabis use increase anxiety disorders? A literature review. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 33(1), 8–13.
  9. Rup, Freeman, T. P., Perlman, C., & Hammond, D. (2022). Cannabis and Mental Health: Adverse Outcomes and Self-Reported Impact of Cannabis Use by Mental Health Status. Substance Use & Misuse, 57(5), 719–729.
  10. Walsh, Gonzalez, R., Crosby, K., S. Thiessen, M., Carroll, C., & Bonn-Miller, M. O. (2017). Medical cannabis and mental health: A guided systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 51, 15–29.
  11. Walsh, Callaway, R., Belle-Isle, L., Capler, R., Kay, R., Lucas, P., & Holtzman, S. (2013). Cannabis for therapeutic purposes: Patient characteristics, access, and reasons for use. The International Journal of Drug Policy, 24(6), 511–516.
  12. Ware, Wang, T., Shapiro, S., Robinson, A., Ducruet, T., Huynh, T., Gamsa, A., Bennett, G. J., & Collet, J.-P. (2010). Smoked cannabis for chronic neuropathic pain: a randomized controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), 182(14), E694–E701.
  13. Webb, & Webb, S. M. (2014). Therapeutic benefits of cannabis: a patient survey. Hawai'i Journal of Medicine & Public Health, 73(4), 109–111.

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