Marijuana Is As Effective For Treating Depression As Gasoline Is For Extinguishing A Fire!
Dr. Richard Schultz Says...
Hello, and thank you for submitting a terrific question.
In short, according to most clinical and empirical data, marijuana use (or abuse) is most certainly not going to have any sustained positive effect on depression, and will most likely worsen the underlying mood disturbance, both in the short and long-term.
Before elaborating, I wish to qualify this response by saying that, despite decades of sophisticated scientific research and observation there is a LOT we don't know about Marijuana and a LOT we don't know about the brain. Thus, the findings described here are based on the preponderance of the evidence we DO have. Absolutes don't exist in nature, and exceptions will always exist.
That said, let's briefly examine SOME of the potentially negative direct effects marijuana use can have on the brain, body, mood and behavior, whether the user is depressed or not:
Difficulties with Short-Term Memory
Difficulties with Psychomotor Coordination
Suppressed Retention of New Learning
Difficulties with Problem-Solving
Anxiety, Paranoia and Panic
Irritability and Anger
Interference with The Activity of Neurotransmitters That Regulate Mood (such as Dopamine, Norepinephrine and Possible Serotonin)
It should be noted that, in individuals who are indeed already depressed, anxious or angry, and are already taking psychotropic medications to address these conditions, the "mystery stew" of Marijuana can interfere significantly with the the metabolism and therapeutic effects of these medications.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, on a purely behavioral and psychological level, the use of marijuana, especially when it habitual, can significantly hinder us from recovering from depression, anxiety, anger as well as many other challenging emotional states. This is because we as human beings will typically work harder to eliminate discomfort or pain than we will to create comfort and well-being. How does that relate to the use of marijuana? Let's take the example of your brother. I know nothing about him other than what you have described, but let's assume that he does struggle with occasional depression, anxiety or anger. If he experiences even temporary reduction in any of these difficult emotions by using Marijuana, he is most likely to fall prey to the principle of "negative reinforcement." This principle states that "any behavior which leads to the temporary avoidance or cessation of an aversive stimulus is going to be repeated." For example, if you have a headache and you take an aspirin, and that reduces the discomfort of your headache, you are going to hit that aspirin again and again and again whenever you experience the onset of a headache, or even if you ANTICIPATE the onset of one. This is not intended to make any negative judgment about the use of aspirin or any other behavior, per se, but merely to illustrate the principle.
So, if any type of emotional discomfort (depression, stress, anxiety, anger, etc.) is even temporarily relieved (or forgotten about) by using marijuana, it's use will become more frequent. You might say, "well, what's the problem with that? Feeling less depressed, stressed, anxious and angry is good, right?" Well, this "solution" is problematic for many reasons.
First, we can only learn to master our feelings by actually feeling them, getting to know and understand them, and ultimately making peace with them. If we medicate, ignore, deny, or otherwise negate these feelings, they might reduce for a moment, but they WILL be back, and we will be even less equipped to cope with them because we have avoided dealing with them. Also, as essential aspects of our "selves," our feelings DON'T like being rejected, and they tend to fight back when "dissed." So, the problematic emotions build, our skills for constructively coping with them get even rustier, and we are stuck with a nasty internal battle (one against ourselves, and one which we can only lose). We also have a keen sense of when we are trying to avoid ourselves or other things we fear (even if this is completely invisible to others), and this usually leads to increased self-criticism (yet another problem feeling/behavior we now have to medicate with marijuana). This psychological and behavioral sequence occurs IN ADDITION to the directly negative physiological and neurochemical effects of marijuana use, described above.
So, after reading this, do you think Marijuana is an effective antidepressant?!
Of course, it would be unethical to omit the well-established fact that marijuana's active ingredients can have a beneficial physiological effect on a variety of medical conditions (including AIDS, Glaucoma, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, and some forms of Cancer), thus the support behind the "medical marijuana" initiative. These benefits can include:
Suppression of Nausea
Reduction of Ocular Pressure
Reduction of Muscle Spasms
Stimulation of Appetite
Amelioration of Convulsions
Reduction of Menstrual Pain
So, again, there are no absolutes in this realm, and exceptions will always exist. But with regard to depression and Marijuana, not so much.
As for the obvious next question, which is "then how do I try to help my brother understand the effect Marijuana is actually having on his brain, body, mood and behavior, and motivate him to make a change?", that is a "Q & A" unto itself. Changing habits is hard, and getting OTHERS to change THEIR habits is like being in quicksand; the harder you work, the more stuck and exhausted you will become. So, it's a very delicate business (matter of fact, it's MY business! :-)). You could begin simply, however, by having him read this reply, and by telling him that you wrote to me because you love him, are concerned about him, and that you wish him peace, well-being, and freedom from suffering. Might be a nice start.
I again want to thank you so very much for consulting me and I hope this reply has been of some use to you. Please don't hesitate to write back with additional questions, to keep me posted on things, or to deal with that "next question" about motivation. You can learn more about me and my practice at www.drschultz.org, and you can read my blog at www.mindset.mobi.
Richard E. Schultz,Ph.D
Page last updated Jul 29, 2012