In today’s fast-paced and stressful world, it’s no surprise that anxiety and depression disorders are on the rise. Fortunately, so is mental health awareness. No longer the taboo subject that it was in the past, in today’s world mental health matters and it’s at the forefront of the conversation.
While traditional treatment methods exist, an alternative therapy has been gaining significant attention in recent years – medical marijuana. In fact, medical cannabis has been shown to offer therapeutic benefits in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression, providing hope for those who have struggled to find relief.
The therapeutic potential of medical marijuana lies in some of its components’ ability to interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our bodies. Through that interaction, medical marijuana can help regulate mood, reduce anxiety levels, and promote a sense of calmness and relaxation. Studies have shown promising results in using medical marijuana to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, it’s important to note that it may not be suitable for everyone, and consultation with a medical cannabis doctor is necessary to develop an individualized treatment plan.
What is anxiety? What is depression? What are common symptoms and treatment alternatives? How can medical marijuana offer relief to those struggling with these mental health conditions? Can patients access medical marijuana in Texas? We have answers to all of these questions, so read-on!
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal emotion of human beings. It’s how our brains react to stress and alert us from danger ahead. Occasional anxiety is OK, but experiencing constant overwhelming stress and fear is not and it’s associated with a set of conditions known as anxiety disorders. Depending on what triggers the condition, we can find several different types of anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety or specific phobias.
The main symptoms of anxiety vary from patient to patient. Some of them are: panic, excessive fear or feelings of doom or danger, sleep problems, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweaty or numb hands, tense muscles, dizziness, inability to concentrate, inability to stop thinking about a problem, hyperventilation, restlessness.
What Is Depression?
Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a lack of interest or pleasure in daily activities; it manifests consistently as a daily occurrence for 2 weeks or more and affects the individual’s ability to conduct regular activities.
Depression is more than just an emotional state of experiencing sadness; it’s a physical condition that’s the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain which prevents the human body from controlling those feelings and regaining a balanced mood. Depression cannot be resolved with the mere willingness to get better, it requires medical treatment. Although this condition is more prevalent in women and often manifests in adults in their 20s, data compiled in 2017 signaled that this disorder affected about 300 million individuals of all genders, ages, economic status and ethnicities worldwide. Depression in midlife or older age can co-occur alongside other serious illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, diabetes or heart disease.
It manifests differently in different patients, but common symptoms of depression are: persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, irritability, frustration, restlessness, pessimism, sleep problems, decreased energy, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, physical aches or pains and thoughts of death or suicide.
Traditional Anxiety And Depression Treatment
Traditional anxiety and depression treatment involves the use of therapy and medicine. In terms of therapy, the most frequently used type is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which teaches patients to turn negative thoughts and behaviors into positive ones, providing them with the tools to approach stressful situations while keeping anxiety under control.
When it comes to medicine, the first approach is the use of modern antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Other antidepressants that work differently than SSRIs and SNRIs such as Bupropion are also used to treat chronic anxiety disorders. Antidepressants work by changing the way how the brain uses or produces certain chemicals that are key to regulate stress and moods; if needed, they can be complemented by the use of beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics or sleep medicine to help deal with some of the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Often, patients will need to try different antidepressants before they find the one that helps relieve symptoms and presents manageable side effects. But in some cases, particularly with depression, some patients turn out to be treatment-resistant or end up dealing with insufferable side effects, which defeats the purpose of the medicine and calls for the use of alternative treatments: enter medical marijuana.
How Does Medical Marijuana Interact With The Body?
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of cannabinoids but the most effective for medical purposes are THC and CBD which have the ability to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes, including mood, pain, appetite, and sleep. Research suggests that medical marijuana may help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety by modulating the ECS: THC and CBD mimic the role of certain neurotransmitters and help re-establish communication within the central nervous system, correcting any previous imbalances that could have affected its normal function.
Each cannabinoid has a different way of interacting with the ECS. THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, connects with CB1 receptors triggering mood-enhancing properties and inducing feelings of euphoria and relaxation when administered in low doses. Because THC induces neural remodeling in CB1 receptors, discontinuing use must be done gradually to avoid withdrawal syndrome effects (just like with traditional antidepressants) which can be successfully done under medical supervision.
CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive and has been shown to have anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. CBD interacts with 5-HT1A receptors without impacting these receptors’ expression. The serotonergic mechanism of CBD is similar to that of the anxiolytic medicine buspirone and differs from that of SSRIs and SNRIs that selectively inhibit reuptake of serotonin. This explains why CBD discontinuation doesn’t trigger withdrawal syndrome effects experienced when discontinuing antidepressants or THC.
How Can Medical Marijuana Help Anxiety and Depression Patients?
Because of its ability to interact with the ECS, medical cannabis can help manage specific symptoms common to anxiety and depression such as:
- Mood Regulation: THC can alter mood and induce feelings of euphoria. This mood-enhancing effect may help individuals with depression feel better and more optimistic.
- Stress Reduction: Chronic stress is a key factor contributing to depression and anxiety. Medical marijuana’s ability to reduce stress and promote relaxation can provide relief for those dealing with these conditions.
- Anxiety Relief: Some medical cannabis compounds, particularly those CBD-dominant, are known for their anxiolytic properties.
- Appetite Stimulation: Depression often leads to a loss of appetite, which can further exacerbate the condition. Medical cannabis is known to stimulate appetite, helping individuals maintain a healthy diet and potentially improving their mood.
- Sleep Improvement: Sleep problems are common among individuals with depression and anxiety. Certain medical cannabis compounds can promote better sleep, which can be beneficial in managing these conditions.
- Reduced Side Effects: Unlike some traditional medications used to treat depression and anxiety, medical marijuana may have fewer side effects for some individuals, making it a more appealing option.
Although more research is necessary in this topic, initial studies have shown that patients using medical cannabis reported improvement in depression symptoms and an overall improvement in their quality of life, particularly when using a CBD-dominant compound. Choosing the right cannabis compound with an adequate THC:CBD ratio is key to the effectiveness of the treatment, and that decision can only be made with an expert who can analyze each patient’s medical history and particular symptoms to assess what is appropriate.
As a general rule, it is preferred to administer very low doses of THC (or none at all) particularly when it comes to treating anxiety, but sometimes it is necessary to administer a higher dose of THC if a particular mental health condition is co-occurring with another condition such as cancer. In that case, the patient benefits from higher THC doses which can be balanced out with the corresponding CBD to curb any negative side effects. Only a qualified medical cannabis practitioner can provide adequate advice to make this type of customized treatment decision.
Accessing Medical Marijuana in Texas
The use of medical marijuana has been legal in Texas since 2015 with the implementation of the Texas’s Compassive Use Program (TCUP). The program has evolved through the years to include more conditions but unfortunately, mental health in isolation is not one of those qualifying conditions. However, many Texan patients suffering from anxiety and depression alongside a qualifying condition (such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases or PTSD) are benefiting from the TCUP program.
To be granted access to medical marijuana in Texas, patients have to be evaluated by a registered marijuana doctor and obtain a prescription after being included in the Compassive Use Registry of Texas (CURT). Once registered in the CURT, patients can go to any of the approved dispensaries within the state to have their prescription filled.
Medical marijuana is gaining recognition as a potential treatment option for individuals struggling with depression and anxiety. While it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, many patients have reported significant relief from their symptoms after using medical marijuana. However, it’s essential to seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating cannabis into your treatment schedule.If you or a loved one are suffering from any of these mental health conditions and want to consider medical marijuana as a treatment option, we are here to help. We are ready to answer any questions and help identify whether you qualify for treatment.