Cannabis and its help with depression
There have been some controversial yet widely publicized studies linking depression to the chronic use of cannabis. However, a peer-reviewed and well-documented study that reviewed thousands of chronic, heavy cannabis users found normal rates of depression, once other factors such as alcohol use, gender, and illness were accounted for. It has been known for many years that depletion of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain leads to depression. Cannabis sativa varieties used in moderation have been shown to help combat clinical depression by increasing the production of serotonin.
When scientists looked at the overall death rates of research participants they discovered that those taking antidepressants had a 32% higher risk of death from other causes compared to non-users. In a survey, 72% of American doctors said they had prescribed antidepressants to children under 18. Still, only 16% of those said they felt comfortable doing so, and only 8% said they had adequate training to treat childhood depression. The United Nations has recently criticized the U.S. for overprescribing psychiatric drugs, as they consume 80% of the world’s methylphenidate (generic of Ritalin).
Antidepressants fail to help about half the people
Antidepressants fail to help about half the people who take them, and a study in laboratory mice helps to explain why. Most antidepressants, including the commonly used Prozac and Zoloft, work by increasing the amount of serotonin, a message-carrying brain chemical made deep in the middle of the brain by cells known as raphe neurons. In January 2010 researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York reported that genetically engineered mice that had too much of one type of serotonin receptor in this region of the brain were less likely to respond to antidepressants. According to Columbia University’s Rene Hen:
“These receptors dampen the activity of these (serotonin-producing) neurons. Too much of them dampen these neurons too much, it puts too much brake on the system.”
Cannabis can also increase serotonin
In October 2007 a new neurobiological study by Dr. Gabriella Gobbi
of McGill University found that THC is an effective antidepressant at low doses. However, at higher doses, the effect reverses itself and can actually worsen depression. This study offers the first evidence that cannabis can also increase serotonin, at least at lower doses. When laboratory rats were injected with the synthetic cannabinoid WIN55,212-2 and then tested with the Forced Swim test to measure “depression,” the researchers observed an antidepressant effect of cannabinoids paralleled by increased activity in the neurons that produce serotonin. However, increasing the cannabinoid dose beyond a set point completely undid the benefits.