For a long time, psychologists have noticed that some of their depressed patients would self-medicate with cannabis. In fact, it occurred so much that some of them began to wonder if cannabis was a medically valid method for treating depression.
On its face, this seems like a plausible hypothesis. Cannabis is known to have a number of important pharmacological effects on those who take it, and it has been used to treat everything from glaucoma to arthritis to chronic pain. But it took years for the research community to examine this question methodically.
Rudimentary CBN Research
Although there hasn’t yet been a great deal of research into the antidepressant properties of cannabis, one important study by scientists with the University of Mississippi was published in a 2010 issue of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. The scientists tested the ability of several different cannabinoids to relieve depression.
Although there were varying results for the different cannabinoids, most did prove to have some ability to treat depression. A couple of the most important cannabinoids researched for this application were tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBN). THC is responsible for most of the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBN is only weakly psychoactive, and is well known as a sedative.
How Do Cannabinoids Ease Depression?
It appears that cannabinol and tetrahydrocannabinol work to alter the brain’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a fundamental role in mood. If your serotonin levels are normal, you feel fine; but if they drop too low, you are likely to feel depressed.
So, when you ingest CBN or THC, your serotonin levels temporarily rise, resulting in an improvement of your mood. After some time, the cannabinoids are processed by your brain, your serotonin levels drop back to their previous levels.
One of the most interesting revelations to come from research into the anti-depressant properties of cannabis is that while several of the cannabinoids did exhibit an anti-depressant-like effect, these effects would reverse at higher doses. In other words, a little cannabis may help elevate the mood of depressed patients, but a lot was likely to make them even more depressed.
As explained to Science Daily by Dr. Gabriella Gobbi of McGill University:
“Low doses had a potent anti-depressant effect, but when we increased the dose, the serotonin in the rats’ brains actually dropped below the level of those in the control group. So we actually demonstrated a double effect: At low doses it increases serotonin, but at higher doses the effect is devastating, completely reversed.”
Accordingly, while CBN and THC both appear to be helpful in the battle against depression, it is important that these substances are used at an appropriate dosing schedule to avoid the potentially negative effects of over-use. Unfortunately, the dosage level at which this occurs is not currently understood, so those trying to treat depression with CBN are wise to discuss the issue with their doctor before initiating self-treatment.
Hopefully, with continued research, doctors and scientists will determine precise ways to alter brain function through the use of cannabinoids.