More Using Pot When Depressed — But Does it Help?
Because the study is observational, it can’t tell which direction this association is going – whether depressed people are more likely to turn to pot, or whether marijuana use fuels depression.
“I think it’s probably those two things at the same time,” Aoun said. “Marijuana could cause depressive symptoms. Additionally, people with depression who seek treatment are looking for options to help reduce the impact or burden of their depressive symptoms. When traditional treatment options are insufficient, they turn to marijuana.
THC, the pot chemical that causes poisoning, has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain, Wetter said. Dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter that directly stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain.
It might help a depressed person feel temporarily better, but it really masks the feelings that will return, Aoun said.
“Drugs don’t introduce new feelings that you don’t have in yourself,” Aoun said. “They just allow disinhibition. If you’re depressed and you smoke marijuana, it won’t cure your depression.”
In addition, these dopamine surges change the chemistry of your brain in a way that exacerbates your depression.
“It takes more use to feel good,” Wetter said. “When you don’t have that, you’ll start to feel the symptoms of more increased depression. You feel the crash, if you will.”
Eleven states have passed laws allowing the recreational use of marijuana, but Aoun said he was more concerned about the 34 states that have passed laws allowing medical marijuana.
“When states push for the legalization of medical marijuana without credible evidence, you send so many false messages,” Aoun said.
There hasn’t been enough medical research to firmly establish the health benefits of marijuana, but legalization has nonetheless made pot a seemingly legitimate alternative for people with mood disorders, said Aoun.
He compared the pot to insulin, a treatment for diabetes tested in large-scale research studies before it became available to patients.
“With marijuana it’s a whole different story where these decisions are really driven primarily by companies with a significant financial interest in promoting marijuana use,” Aoun said.
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