Medical marijuana may be able to help treat depression, a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests.
Neuroscientists from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions studied the effects of endocannabinoids — chemical compounds in the brain that activate the same receptors as marijuana’s active compound, THC — on rats, and found that chronic stress reduced the animals’ production of endocannabinoids. The researchers then gave the stressed out rats doses of medical marijuana, and found that it restored their brains’ endocannabinoid levels, thereby possibly alleviating some of the symptoms of depression.
“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression,” said Research Institute on Addictions senior research scientist Samir Haj-Dahmane, PhD. “Using compounds derived from cannabis — marijuana — to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”
This news is a bigger deal than it seems, and could help a shocking amount of people. Depression is said to affect one in 10 Americans at some point in their lives. However, more than 80% of depressed individuals never seek out professional help, which means that number could potentially be much higher. The number of patients diagnosed with depression does increase by about 20% each year, after all.
However, this is only preliminary research.
“Our research thus far has used animal models; there is still a long way to go before we know whether this can be effective in humans,” Haj-Dahmane said in the statement. “However, we have seen that some people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have reported relief using marijuana.”
According to one study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs last year, patients who smoked cannabis experienced a 75% reduction in PTSD symptoms, which include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, emotional numbness, guilt, worry, anxiety, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, tense feelings, difficulty sleeping, and depression.
The researchers’ next step is to determine whether using a marijuana extract, cannabidiol, could restore normal behavior in the animals, without leading to a dependence on the medicine.