By Rebecca Olmos | Correspondent

As cannabis becomes more of a mainstream substance, known for its potential medicinal benefits, many people have turned to it as a means of coping with symptoms of different reasons like sleep, pain, and even mental health conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression.

What is depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mental condition that negatively affects how you think, feel and act. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects over 280 million adults worldwide. Symptoms of depression include but are not limited to feelings of sadness, loss of interest in everyday activities, low energy, changes in appetite, and random sleeping patterns.

It’s important to note that if you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should first speak with a trained medical professional or counselor. This article is only meant to provide insight into the current understandings between cannabis and depression.

Our endocannabinoid system, mental health, and cannabis

Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) links cannabis and our mental health. The complex system of neurotransmitters and receptors is responsible for helping the body maintain homeostasis for various functions, including cognitive ones like emotions and behavior.

According to Harvard Health, there are many reasons a person could experience depression — faulty mood regulation by the brain, traumatic events, medications, and chronic stress. Researchers at the University of Boston found that chronic stress significantly reduced the production of endocannabinoids in the animals they studied. They are looking to cannabis to help restore those levels.

Phytocannabinoids, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are found in the cannabis plant. They have a similar structure to one of the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids, anandamide. It is coined the “bliss molecule” because of its role in mental wellness and motivation. Studies have also shown that THC stimulates the body to release dopamine which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

Things to consider when choosing a cannabis product to help with mental health

Cannabis is a biphasic molecule which means the effects you may experience depend on the size of the dosage. In small doses, a person may experience relaxing feelings. In high doses, it might induce anxiety, so it is always best when experimenting with cannabis to start low and go slow.

There is currently no research done to support the clinical usage of cannabis for depression. Still, there are a few studies that show the antidepressant effects of the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol, CBD. Small doses of CBD-rich products might be a good starting point when beginning a journey to infuse cannabis into a mental health and wellness routine.