Explaining depression to someone who’s never experienced it is like trying to explain the color red: it just is. For some, it’s a constant feeling of impending doom or a lingering sadness. For others, it’s like standing on an ocean pier, waving hopelessly from the dock as the person you thought you were sailing off into the sea. There’s no way around it: depression is no fun at all. Unfortunately, it’s not all that rare, either.
Depression – What the Stats Say
Depression is an equal opportunity offender, affecting people of all races, genders, and walks of life. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, it’s diagnosed in 14.8 million Americans each year. This amounts to around 6.7 percent of the population. While it can attack anyone of any age (even children), the median onset is 32.
Depression is a major economic issue, both in the United States and worldwide. Its toll on American businesses amounts to around 70 million each year in lost productivity, sick leave, and medical costs. Internationally, it’s the leading cause of disability for people five years and older.
The greatest danger from depression is risk of harm to oneself: over two-thirds of suicides in the US are linked to some form of depression. Though homicides make the headlines and flood the newsfeeds, suicide is more common in our society: for every two people who kill others, three people kill themselves.
The Causes of Depression
The brain is the most complex of our organs and we simply don’t know that much about it. Because of this, it’s hard to pinpoint a direct cause of depression. Many times, there isn’t one thing that leads to it, making it difficult to avoid. This is different than other diseases. While some conditions are just bad luck (or faulty genes), many risks are reduced through lifestyle choices. Exercise, for instance. And stop eating your body weight in bacon.
Depression is unique, like other mental illnesses, and comes about for many reasons or no reason at all. Still, there are things that increase its risk of developing. These include: abuse, certain medicines (Accutane, corticosteroids, interferon-alpha), loss of a loved one, a genetic predisposition, a serious illness, substance abuse, eating disorders, and major life events (even events that are joyful, such as marriage, can ignite it).
Researchers have also concluded that, in regards to moods of sadness, size really does matter…the size of your hippocampus, that is. People who have clinical depression tend to have a smaller hippocampus, the part of your brain believed to be associated with emotions, memory, and the autonomic nervous system. The theory is that people whose hippocampus is small have fewer serotonin receptors. Since serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate feelings, those with fewer receptors have a mind that’s easier thrown off balance.
Men get depression, but it’s more common in women: they’re affected at rates double that of males.
In fact, the lifetime prevalence for women is around 26 percent, leaving the average female twice as likely to get depression than breast cancer.
The Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms of depression are about as vague as the causes. Some include feelings of sadness or hopelessness; problems falling or staying asleep; and irritability.
Men are more likely to show aggression and self-medicate with alcohol or sex. Women are more likely to internalize their emotions and feel guilt over the stress and self-doubt elicited.
It’s hard for people with depression to conceptualize what exactly they’re sad about. Often, there isn’t something that’s happened or even a series of things. People simply feel sad for no reason and all reasons.
How Pot Helps
There are a few remedies that help depression – anti-depressants, exercise, and healthy eating may ease the sorrow. And, of course, sometimes we only need time. After all, the rumor is it heals all wounds. But for certain people, alternative options are more suitable. One of these in cannabis.
In studies, marijuana improves depressive symptoms because of its ability to stimulate the endocannabinoid system, ultimately increasing neurogenesis. This is similar to the way things like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft work. But cannabis usually involves milder side effects than anti-depressants. Yet, this doesn’t mean you should just grab a bong to beat the blues – there are precautions worth taking.
As anyone who’s ever smoked a joint knows, too much pot (or the wrong strain) can mean the difference between an enjoyable high and suddenly convincing yourself that your heart’s going to jump out of your chest and perform a song and dance number on the coffee table. Plainly, THC has a propensity for paranoia.
A neurobiological study recently considered this when it evaluated THC for depression.
The researchers discovered that THC’s effectiveness had a boundary: in low doses, it was great for easing depression symptoms.
In high doses, it had the potential to make symptoms worse.
Another study found cannabis helpful for anxiety caused by trauma. Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, this study discovered that CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabinoid) eliminated the response to fear. For people whose depression is caused, or exacerbated, by fear, abuse, or a stressful past, marijuana strains potent in CBD may be more beneficial than the ones full of THC.
Really, it comes down to what works for you: if anti-depressants take the edge off, talk to your doctor; if exercise makes you feel whole again, lace up those tennis shoes; if healthy eating gives you joy, toss back some flax seed; and if marijuana tames the monster of depression – well, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
The Best Strains for Depression
For anyone who wants Mary Jane to be their therapist, there are certain strains much better for depression than others. While indica is relaxing and calming, sativa is energetic and uplifting. Many people recommend sativa for depression because of its peppiness; indica in those already feeling gloomy might make things worse: suddenly, you turn into Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Even so, this isn’t true for everyone: we all react differently to different strains. Besides, anyone whose depression is perpetuated by extreme worry, obsession, or fixations may benefit from indica’s ability to allow the mind to take a bit of a chill pill.
Your choice between strains high in THC and CBD may also become a factor. As noted above, both are beneficial as long as you take the right amounts. Today, many strains are hybrids, giving the option to get the best of both worlds.
Overall, some of the most effective strains to defeat the doom include:
A sativa strain, it’s known to promote happiness and creativity. It’s high in limonene and pinene, two terpenes that boost mood and, as an added bonus, focus. Yep, with this, you can actually be happy while doing your taxes.
This strain typically has an uneven ratio of THC and CBD: around 2 to 5. Many can feel the CBD effects strongly outweighing the THC. It’s a good strain for settling your nerves, while allowing your head to stay clear. You won’t be higher than a kite, but you might be as happy as a clam.
Despite its name, this strain won’t leave you catatonic, staring at the wall as your children run off to play with matches. It actually leads to mental clarity and a heightened mood. Like Harlequin, it’s full of THC and CBD, but the CBD dominates, leaving you calm instead of anxious.
Though this strain is high in indica, it works for depression because of its linalool content – the terpenes aid in stress relief. The outcome is a peaceful mind and a relaxed body.
A very sativa dominant strain (80 percent versus 20), Amnesia Haze is the winner of 16 Cannabis Cups. Its main talent is its ability to severe negative thought patterns, which might make it not only helpful for depression but social anxiety, OCD, and PTSD.
In the end, anyone suffering from depression has options: friends and family, pills and professionals, Cheech and Chong. Remember that the next time you’re standing alone on the dock feeling hopeless – any minute now, your ship is coming in.