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Depression and Marijuana: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on June 10, 2021

Marijuana use and depression often go hand in hand. If you have depression, you’re twice as likely to use marijuana than someone who doesn’t have it. Marijuana use in the United States is rising in general, but it’s growing faster among people with depression. Widespread legalization is likely part of the reason.

With medical and recreational use legal in many states, marijuana (cannabis) is easier to get than ever before. Easy, legal access may make the drug seem safer.

Although many people with depression use marijuana, scientists don’t think the drug causes the mood disorder. Instead, recent research suggests that people with the condition use it to treat their symptoms. Relief from those symptoms is one of the most common reasons people say they use depression.

Some research shows marijuana can help you feel better if you have depression, particularly in the short term. But the FDA hasn’t approved medical marijuana for treatment of depression.

If you or a loved one has depression, here’s what to know about marijuana’s potential risks and benefits.

Marijuana Use Can Cause Problems

A lot of people with depression see marijuana as a safe drug. But studies show that when you have depression, marijuana can increase your risk for some serious problems. These include:

Worse depression. For some people, marijuana adds to depression symptoms. Your risk is higher if you started to use the drug as a teen, are a heavy user, or use recreational instead of medical marijuana.

Lack of motivation. When you use marijuana, you may find it more difficult to take part in activities that are good for you. One study found that about 20% of people who use marijuana for depression said it lowered their motivation.

Lower chance you’ll seek help. When you use marijuana recreationally, you’re less likely to seek professional care for your depression. And if you’re a heavy user and do see a mental health professional, there’s less chance their treatment will help you recover from depression.

Tobacco use and alcohol and drug misuse. People who use marijuana are more likely to smoke cigarettes and to misuse alcohol, marijuana itself, and other drugs.

Schizophrenia. Certain genes can raise your risk of schizophrenia or psychosis. If you have these genes, marijuana use may trigger these disorders.

Suicidal thoughts. Studies link marijuana use to a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in teens and recreational users with depression.

Marijuana May Ease Symptoms of Depression

There is some evidence that marijuana can reduce symptoms of depression in the short term. Some users say it helps them feel more relaxed, happy, and peaceful.

A 2020 study published in The Journal of Biology and Medicine found that about 95% of people said marijuana gave them rapid short-term relief from depression symptoms.

A study published in 2018 in the Journal of Affective Disorders reported similar fast-acting benefits. It found that people who took just two puffs of medical marijuana said the drug improved their symptoms of depression by about 50%. But continued use seemed to worsen their symptoms.

Bottom Line

Right now, there’s no good evidence that marijuana can give you long-term relief from depression. More studies show the drug can have harmful effects when you have the mood disorder, particularly if you begin use in your teens.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Addiction: “Rapid increase in the prevalence of cannabis use among persons with depression in the U.S., 2005–2017: the role of differentially changing risk perceptions.”

Journal of Affective Disorders: “Medical and non-medical marijuana use in depression: Longitudinal associations with suicidal ideation, everyday functioning, and psychiatry service utilization,” “A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect.” 

Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology: “Cannabis and depression.”

Mayo Clinic: “Marijuana and depression: What’s the link?” “Marijuana.”

Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research: "A cross-sectional survey of medical cannabis users: patterns of use and perceived efficacy.”

The Journal of Biology and Medicine: “The effectiveness of cannabis flower for immediate relief from symptoms of depression.” 

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Marijuana Research Report: Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders?”

European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience: “Cannabis and mental illness: A review.”

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