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Medical Cannabis For Depression: An Alternative To Traditional Medication

14 March 2023

Picture of a man sitting sadly on the floor, seemingly overwhelmed by the questioning and depressive thoughts illustrated with scribbles

Key Points

  • Medical cannabis is an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional treatment of depression. 
  • While some people still doubt the efficacy of medical cannabis due to its affiliations with smoking, an unhealthy habit, research into its potency in alleviating depression symptoms has yielded promising results. 
  • A 2021 study of the use of medical cannabis for stress and depression reported a significant decrease in the depressive symptoms of human test subjects who were treated with medical cannabis. This effect wasn’t observed in the control group of test subjects who weren’t given cannabis. People who were given medical cannabis also reported reduced pain, superior sleep and quality of life during the study. 
  • Medical cannabis induces these results via the effect of two principal cannabinoids, THC and CBD, on the brain. These chemical compounds increase the body’s ‘feel-good’ hormones and theoretically help treat depression symptoms.
  • However, even as research has revealed promising results on medical cannabis’ efficacy in depression treatment, further studies need to corroborate these results. For now, these results should be taken on a case-by-case basis, especially as an alternative when traditional medicine fails. 
  • Nevertheless, if you believe that you’re eligible for medical cannabis for depression, you can consult a medical specialist to obtain a prescription. 


Depression is a prevalent and debilitating mental health disorder, with one in five adults in Britain experiencing some form of it. This ailment affects over 350 million people globally, so you’re not alone. According to WHO, depression is a leading cause of disability. In its acute state, it leads to suicidal thoughts, which over 700,000 people succumb to yearly. 

While there are treatment options for different types of depression, reports have shown that only 24% of adults receive treatment, including prescription medication like SSRIs, which sometimes possess side effects that outpace the intended benefits. Hence, there is high demand for an effective alternative to traditional treatments for depression.

Medical cannabis is a popular option that checks every box in depression treatment. While it’s still a Class B substance in the UK, medical cannabis has tremendous benefits, which depression patients use to their advantage.

In this article, we’ll explore the potential and science behind using medical cannabis as a treatment option for depression. We’ll also dive into its risks, side effects and benefits. 

Depression At A Glance

Everyone has the occasional bad day where a series of things go wrong and you want to climb into a hole or never get out of bed again. However, depression is more severe than a bad day. It is the convergence of bad days for long streaks of time. Here are the typical clinical symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, helplessness and hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, self-blame and tearfulness
  • Feelings of being restless and very irritable
  • Fatigue, tiredness
  • Lack of motivation or interest in anything
  • Unexplained physical pain like back pain or headaches
  • Constipation, low sex drive, disturbed sleep
  • Reduced appetite/hyperactive appetite
  • Weight loss/weight gain
  • Recurrent suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm
  • Cognitive difficulty in thinking, remembering, concentrating or making decisions

Depression comes in different types and severities. It could be:

  • Major depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Postpartum depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Dysthymia

These depression types could be mild, moderate or severe. They could also be acute, chronic, induced or ongoing. Some, like dysthymia, have low severity and are perceived as the individual’s personality trait. 

Causes of depression

Several schools of thought about the cause of depression exist since this mental illness wears many hats. It could be triggered by anything, be it one’s life events, brain chemistry, genetics, medical condition or even personality. Nevertheless, it’s never the patient’s fault for sinking into depression. However, it’s their responsibility and that of their loved ones to help them claw their way out of it. 

Like several ailments, depression has its preventive and remedial treatments. The remedial treatment we’re exploring today is medical cannabis. 

How Medical Cannabis Helps With Depression

A picture of medical cannabis in different forms from oils to pills, plants and grain.

Medical cannabis is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. It is a cannabis-infused medication and product used for medical purposes or its medicinal benefits. It contains a cluster of compounds called cannabinoids, over 100 of which have different effects on the human body. The prevalent compounds of medical cannabis are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) and cannabinol (CBD). 

THC is the psychoactive part of medical cannabis. It is responsible for the euphoric effect or ‘high’ feeling, while CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it responsible for the calming effects of medical cannabis. When inhaled or consumed, CBD and THC bind themselves to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain through the endocannabinoid system. 

The endocannabinoid system is a fully-functioning biological system in the human body, made up of neurotransmitters that link with cannabinoid receptors. As part of the central nervous system, the ECS acts as a neuro-bridge between the brain and the body. It is responsible for pain management, appetite, immune response, sleep patterns, mood, cognitive processes, etc., when interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. 

How Medical Cannabis Works On Depression Symptoms

Medical cannabis possesses therapeutic effects, which are in contrast to the symptoms of depression. Since one should take the impact of these effects on a case-by-case basis, let’s explore how medical cannabis could alleviate some cases of depression symptoms. 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness

When used, the THC and CBD in medical cannabis interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system and play significant roles in alleviating depression symptoms. CBD promotes the production of hormones like serotonin and dopamine in the human body. These are the ‘feel-good’ hormones synonymous with feelings of happiness and tranquillity. Thus, by facilitating the production of these hormones, medical cannabis influences moods and can help you lead a happy life. 

  • Unexplained physical pain

Several depression patients report some type of pain or the other. THC and CBD in medical cannabis have analgesic properties, and medical experts even recommend them to treat several ailments, from arthritis to chronic or neuropathic pain. So, potentially, these experts can recommend them for depression pains. Here’s how it works. When one inhales medical cannabis, its active components, THC and CBD, easily cross the blood-brain barrier and decrease the central nervous system’s response to pain sensations. Inhalation of medical cannabis via vaporisation increases the body’s absorption of the active components than smoking.

  • Disturbed sleep

The THC in medical cannabis has been linked to inducing sleep and acting as a sedative. Since lack of quality sleep or disturbed sleep is one of the symptoms of depression, THC can likely help depression patients sleep better. How does it work? THC interacts with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and increases adenosine levels while suppressing the body’s arousal system. However, studies have shown that dose affects the sleep tendencies of medical cannabis. Lower doses cause alertness, while higher doses cause deep sleep. Nevertheless, consuming medical cannabis with higher THC levels will reduce the amount of REM sleep you get, thus increasing your tendency to sleep deeply without dreaming, or waking up from bad dreams. 

Does medical cannabis help treat depression?

While scientific evidence is yet to conclusively determine the efficacy of medical cannabis for the treatment of depression, several studies have revealed its anti-depressant quality. 

For instance, the 2021 research study by Martin et al.. This study featured 368 cannabis users and 170 Controls as participants. 34% of these participants struggled with anxiety, 15% reported having depression, and 69% had chronic pain disorder. After participants completed a baseline survey, the researchers invited them to complete follow-up surveys every three months. During this follow-up survey, they observed that participants who were cannabis users reported lower levels of depression than non-cannabis users (Controls), who reported no change in their depression levels. The medical cannabis users in this study also reported having a better quality of sleep, less pain, and better quality of life. These users scored below the HADS cut-off point for clinical concern, while the non-cannabis participant scored higher than the HADS cut-off. The results of this research study led the author, Martin, to conclude that:

“Medical cannabis use may reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in clinically anxious and depressed populations.” 

You can find other evidence of the plausibility of medical cannabis for depression in the 2014 research study by Schier et el., which concluded that CBD in medical cannabis could help with depression due to its interaction with the 5-HTA1 receptor, which influences the body’s serotonin levels. A 2017 study by Susan Stoner titled ‘Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health: Depression’ also observed the antidepressant quality of THC and CBD in animal models and at specific doses. A 2019 review by Silote et al. suggested that the potential antidepressant quality of CBD is due to its effect on the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This review postulated that CBD increases one’s BDNF levels, the opposite of which is synonymous with depression. In addendum, a 2014 study by Charles and Sandra Webb reiterated the analgesic properties of medical cannabis through a Hawai’ian study that revealed a 64% decrease in chronic pain by respondents. 

Cumulative studies that observe and report medical cannabis’s potential efficacy in depression treatment exist. From a symptom-by-symptom basis and even holistically, there’s a lot of positive feedback about the strength of medical cannabis as a depression treatment. 

What kind of depression can medical cannabis treat?

Depression comes in varying types and severities. While medical cannabis can potentially treat it, different strains of cannabis might work better for certain types of depression patients than others. 

Image of a happy woman holding a bottle of CBD oil and pressing her phone.

  • Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression, is severe and has overwhelming symptoms that interfere with the patient’s everyday life. Patients can alleviate their MDD symptoms with medical cannabis. However, this relief could be short-termed depending on the cannabis strain and dosage. 

  • Bipolar Disorder

Individuals with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings featuring highs and lows. Depression is synonymous with these lows and features symptoms like disturbed sleep and hyperactivity, which both THC and CBD can address. 

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, or seasonal depression, usually begins from fall to winter and often goes away as the sun returns. SAD is characterised by anxiety, apathy or sadness, which CBD-rich strains of medical cannabis can checkmate. 

Studies have shown that individuals with MDD and bipolar disorder may develop cannabis dependence. In contrast, those with seasonal depression may quickly go without it once the better cycle begins. 

Other types of depression

  • Psychotic depression

Psychotic depression is characterised by severe depression symptoms, hallucinations and delusions. While medical cannabis may offer some relief to the psychotically depressed, it’s not advised as a treatment option as it could increase the level of hallucinations said patient already experiences. 

  • Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression or baby blues is triggered by the changes surrounding one’s life during the birth of an infant. It is associated with sadness, guilt, discontent, worry or stress. Postpartum depression mainly affects the mother, and recommending medical cannabis for a breastfeeding mother isn’t advised as it could impair the infant’s cognitive abilities. 

Medical cannabis strains for depression

Over 700 strains of medical cannabis can be used to treat depression symptoms. The effect of each strain varies depending on the THC or CBD content. Some of these strains are derived from these parent types:

  • Indica

Cannabis indica-derived strains contain more CBD and have soothing properties. Hence, it’s potentially the best medical cannabis strain for depression patients that experience hyperactivity or restlessness. 

  • Sativa

Cannabis sativa-derived strains contain more THC, giving a more energetic euphoric feeling than CBD. Sativa-derived cannabis strains are better suited for depression patients with low energy levels or motivation. 

  • Hybrid

Hybrid-derived cannabis strains are blends of both Indica and Sativa in varying proportions. 

According to cannabis specialists and medical physicians, cannabis strains with over 20% THC will induce sleeplessness. Hence, going below this percentage is best for depression patients with disrupted sleep patterns. 

Medical Cannabis Risks

Cannabis might be a recreational substance, but medical cannabis is designed to improve the quality of life. Nevertheless, like any treatment, it does come with specific risks.

  • Cannabis use disorder

A 2018 review by Lucatch et al. revealed that individuals with major depression and bipolar disorder might be more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder (CUD). However, the authors ruled out the inconclusive nature of the findings and reiterated the need for further research into the behavioural mechanisms of medical cannabis. 

  • Infant health impairment

As previously stated, medical cannabis shouldn’t be recommended for new mothers with postpartum depression as it can impair a child’s healthy development when administered via breast milk. 

  • Cough 

Medical cannabis has been linked to cough. Webb’s 2014 study, ‘Therapeutic benefits of cannabis: a patient survey,’ revealed that 6% of participants reported having cough or throat irritation after using medical cannabis. 

Nevertheless, the same study also reported no adverse effects from 71% of the participants who used medical cannabis. Therefore, while medical cannabis has risks, its benefits outpace these risk factors and side effects. 

Final Takeaway – Medical Cannabis for Depression

Medical cannabis is a viable option for depression treatment, especially when traditional medication fails or is ineffective for patients. While its efficacy is yet to be conclusive, studies have proven that medical cannabis’ analgesic, antidepressant and sleep-inducing properties combat the related depression symptoms. 

Nevertheless, the doses and strains of medical cannabis streamline the kind of effect it gives off. 

This is why talking to experts at Lyphe is non-negotiable to access the best possible relief for your depression symptoms. 


Does CBD act as an antidepressant?

Yes. CBD has psychiatric potential and can be used as an anxiolytic and antidepressant-like compound.

How quickly does CBD work for depression?

Patients should feel relief from their depression symptoms within 30 minutes of administering medical cannabis.

How can one get a medical cannabis prescription?

One must consult with a doctor to get a prescription or a recommendation for medical cannabis in the UK.

Is depression a lifelong condition?

Major depressive disorder (MDD) can be long-lasting or lifelong, while others, like seasonal affective disorder, aren’t. However, with proper treatment, your depression symptoms can be managed, regardless of the type.

Author: Bojan
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Bojan Ambrus, Head of Marketing & Digital Product at Lyphe Group, is a data-driven growth marketing professional with over 15 years of rich experience. His background includes roles such as Head of Marketing at and growth marketing roles in various enterprises, startups, and scale-ups. His expertise in building and positioning businesses is particularly valuable in the cannabis sector, where he navigates its complexities and regulatory challenges. His strategic marketing insights make Bojan a key player in shaping Lyphe Group's marketing and digital product strategies.

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