Disclaimer: On the Growers Choice blog, we aim to educate you about cannabis, how it can help, and how it can affect you. While more and more people are turning to cannabis to treat mental health conditions, the scientific jury is still out on its benefits and long-term effects. We do not advocate replacing prescription medication or beginning to use cannabis for medical reasons without first speaking with a doctor. Please do your research, never rely on a single source for your information, and use responsibly!
There are almost as many reasons for taking marijuana as there are people using it. Some people want to ease their chronic pain or deal with symptoms of depression. They might be looking to counteract the side effects of cancer treatment, or simply seeking a bit of recreation that, simply speaking, isn’t any different than having a few beers. Helping mood disorders might only be a small percentage of what cannabis is used for, but even “relaxing with a few tokes” is ultimately a mental health treatment.
So, whether you just want to explore the reasons using marijuana is a fun evening activity, or you’re actively thinking about it as a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals, let’s dive into the details behind cannabis and mood.
Why does cannabis affect your mood?
Most people know by now that cannabis affects the brain. Specifically, it is the cannabinoids in the plant that generate all the effects this multipurpose plant provides. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds that, interestingly, match really well to certain “receptors” already in our bodies. Because this link was discovered during early research into THC (the most prominent of the 80-plus cannabinoids), the system of receptors in the human body is often called the endocannabinoid system.
This system is responsible for the production and dispersal of chemicals that help our bodies maintain homeostasis or equilibrium — something vital to our continued health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. When this balance is thrown off, due to illness or other factors, we can feel crappy for a few hours, or get really sick.
Back to cannabinoids. These cannabis compounds bear a striking resemblance to neurotransmitters that interact with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. As a result, smoking, vaporizing, or otherwise ingesting cannabis enables these cannabinoids to fill in for missing neurotransmitters, prompt their creation, or build on our existing stores.
There are two types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system: CB1 and CB2. Cannabis doesn’t affect everyone the same, and that different types have different effects because the concentrations of these receptors are different throughout the body and from person to person.
CB1 receptors mostly exist in the brain, so cannabinoids that activate primarily CB2 receptors, which exist throughout the body, are going to have less of a psychoactive effect. This is a very simplified description, of course, but it should help make clear why cannabis has so many different effects.
Cannabis and Depression
There is a ton of conversation about cannabis and depression. You might notice on our website that when we mention the two, we usually say cannabis could help symptoms of depression. This is because there is no evidence cannabis can cure or eradicate this disorder, and we would certainly never advocate for its exclusive use in treatment.
There is no evidence that marijuana causes depression, but that isn’t to say it’s harmless either, necessarily. It seems the biggest potential issue with using marijuana — and this goes for any mental health-related toking — is the risk that the body will become dependent on the cannabinoids.
This does not mean addiction, per se, and many advocates argue that cannabis is not addictive. But it does mean your body could stop producing the cannabinoids on its own that it is getting from cannabis. And that leads to a cyclical issue. So it is always best to talk to a doctor before you start treating yourself with cannabis.
The fact that marijuana can cause this issue, however, also suggests it can help symptoms of depression by offering up these very transmitters. Cannabis plays in the reward system of the body, stimulating the release of dopamine, which can make you feel happy and, in large quantities, get you high.
Strains that may help easy depression:
Lots of people light up or nibble on a brownie when they get home from work, to help alleviate stress. When talking about mental health and moods, it is essential to point out that stress — while problematic in its own ways — is not anxiety, which is a mental health disorder.
There is no hard science about cannabis for anxiety, but many people use it to ease their symptoms, and investigations into its use for PTSD has been fairly positive. As one article points out, however, it all comes down to frequency, as well. It is possible that “frequent users may be medicating the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal rather than anxiety”, and that’s a whole new issue.
Strains that could help ease anxiety:
Whatever you’re seeking to alleviate, the dosage is a hugely important consideration. A small, infrequent dose of calming, indica weed could help a person get to sleep when an anxiety attack is threatening, but most people who tried the flavor of the day when they were in high school knows too much or the wrong strain can also make you panic.