Does Marijuana Treat Anxiety And Depression? Short-Term Relief Vs. Long-Term Effects, New Research

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By Dana Dovey

Marijuana is reputed for its ability to relieve pain and alleviate moods, so it would seem the ideal treatment for those suffering from depression or anxiety. However, new research suggests this may not be the case, after finding that in the long-term, heavy chronic marijuana use tends to worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety, not reverse them.

The study found that individuals with subclinical depression who used marijuana to self-treat their depressive symptoms reported feeling more depressed than anxious. On the other hand, self-reported anxiety sufferers who used marijuana to treat their symptoms reported that they felt more anxious than they did depressed.

“If they [respondents] were using cannabis for self-medication, it wasn’t doing what they thought it was doing,” explained co-author Jacob Braunwalder, in a recent statement.

The researchers note that the main caveat to their study is that the responses are self-reported and based off their own personal self-medication experiences. Still, the researchers urge that these results suggests it’s time to dedicate more research into how marijuana affects the brains of those with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“There is a common perception that cannabis relieves anxiety,” said study co-author Jeremy Andrzejewski in a recent statement, adding that the results of his research suggest the exact opposite.

At the moment, the team hypothesizes that marijuana may treat depression and anxiety in the beginning, but at some point begins to stop work and perhaps even worsen the condition symptoms. Much more research will be necessary in order to completely understand the effect of marijuana on mental health conditions.

This is not the first time researchers have suggested that marijuana exacerbated depression and anxiety treatments, and it may be that marijuana affects different patients differently. A 2015 animal study found that marijuana did help to reverse the effects to too much stress, the main cause of depression, in the brains of mice. However, the results were not strong enough to suggest the same could be true in humans. What’s more, depression and anxiety treatments are tailored to an individual’s needs and personal biology, so it would make sense that marijuana was not a “one-size-fits-all” fix to these complex medical conditions.

Source: Troup LJ, Andrzejewski JA, Braunwalder JT, Torrence RD. The relationship between cannabis use and measures of anxiety and depression in a sample of college campus cannabis users and non-users post state legalization in Colorado. Peer J. 2016

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