26th October 2021
By Roland Sebestyén
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While cannabis use is consistently linked with the development of a number of mental health disorders in mainstream media and the medical community, the results of a recent study support evidence that the drug could actually be beneficial for some conditions – namely, depression.

A recent study, carried out by researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina presented data comparisons that revealed “lower levels of depression” and improved sleep and quality of life in cannabis users compared with non-users.

According to lead author Erin Martin, “an increasing number of people struggling with anxiety and/or depression” are exploring alternative ways to treat their symptoms after they exhausted traditional management options.

The researchers sent out an online survey – to assess anxiety and depressive symptoms, cannabis product use, sleep, quality of life, and comorbid chronic pain. The survey was completed by 368 cannabis users and 170 controls (non-users) over the last four years.

The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) was used to evaluate symptoms of anxiety and depression, with a score below 8 indicating “clinical concern.”

The “abbreviated” version of the World Health Organization Quality of Life assessment (WHOQOL-BREF) was also used to assess perceived quality of life, health satisfaction, and mood.

Sleep was assessed using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), as sleep dysfunction is a symptom of both anxiety and depressive disorders.

Findings

The conclusion is clear: medicinal cannabis use may reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in clinically anxious and depressed populations.

Interestingly, while cannabis users reported lower baseline depression, they did not report lower anxiety levels compared to non-users – the researchers claim that cannabis users were more likely to fall below the HADS cut-off for clinical concern for depression but not anxiety.

Cannabis users also rated their overall quality of life more highly than controls, and reported lower “past-month average pain.”

The researchers concluded: “In our study, we found that cannabis users reported reduced depression relative to non-using Controls at baseline. Consistent with prior research in people with comorbid chronic pain, we found that the use of THC-dominant products was not superior to the use of non-THC-dominant products in alleviating depression symptoms.

“In contrast, participants that reported use of CBD-dominant products provided significantly lower depression scores relative to those that did not, consistent with preclinical findings. Cannabis Users also reported superior sleep, average pain, and quality of life relative to Controls.

“This is unsurprising given the interrelated nature of these constructs with depression, and both pain and quality of life have been shown to be improved with traditional antidepressant treatment.

“Consistent with baseline outcomes, we found that initiation of medicinal cannabis use was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms, sustained use was associated with a modest reduction, and participants that did not use cannabis at all showed no difference in symptom expression between baseline and follow-up.

“These combined cross-sectional and longitudinal findings show a consistent antidepressant effect of medicinal cannabis.”

There is a growing conversation around the use of cannabis to aid with the management of depression-related symptoms as researchers continue to explore the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the drug.

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