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Anxiety and depression disorders affect far too many of us. Either we are struggling ourselves, or we have seen the effects displayed in the lives of those closest to us. In 2018, it was estimated that 7.2 per cent of Americans experienced a major depressive episode.
Even worse, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America predicts that 31% of adult Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. It follows then that many people in this country are taking medications such as antidepressants (which are also used for anxiety), as well as recreational drugs to treat such ailments of the mind.
Anxiety and depression medications come in many forms and often overlap, not just amongst each other, but also including use for ailments such as OCD, ADHD, pain relief, etc. Let’s break it down…
Antidepressants, of course, are used to treat clinical depression. However, they are often also used to treat anxiety disorders. Clincal depression is defined, by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, as “a state of depression and anhedonia so severe as to require clinical intervention.” Anhedonia, the clinical loss of interest in interacting with rewarding and mood-improving activities, is a state of being that is involved heavily in anxiety disorders. More specifically, anhedonia is thought to be a factor that prevents patients from healing clinical anxiety disorders. This is why antidepressants are often prescribed also for anxiety disorder.
SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor)
SNRI (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor)
The medications usually used specifically for anxiety disorders are benzodiazepenes. These drugs have a tendency to be abused, however they are useful when prescribed and taken appropriately.
Many of those who take medications for anxiety or depression may also be likely to resort to cannabis for its relaxing, meditative effects. Many users report consuming cannabis for anxiety, especially social anxiety disorders. Studies show that THC is effective in lower doses, while CBD seems to be effective at all doses tested. However, the question then arises: should there be any concern when taking anxiety or depression medications while also consuming marijuana simultaneously?
To answer whether consuming cannabis while taking other medications is harmful, it is necessary to first discuss how cannabis affects the brain and body. When someone consumes cannabis in any form, it activates microscopic receptors in the brain. These receptors are called the “cannabinoid receptors”. Cannabinoid receptors serve to receive endocannabinoids, which are released naturally by humans to keep the brain and body connected. Smoking cannabis, specifically, causes the body to produce “phytocannabinoids” (CBD, THC, etc.), which replace naturally occurring cannabinoids. Consuming cannabis, therefore, changes the way the brain and body communicate.
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the type of medication most often prescribed for depression and/or anxiety. It has been shown that CBD can hinder the process of getting rid of SSRI antidepressants from your body. This results in an increased average level of serotonin.
This can eventually lead to Serotonin syndrome, a potentially lethal illness caused by elevated serotonin levels. Accounts from cannabis smokers themselves, however, seem to indicate that THC cannabis buds are safe to smoke. Of course, THC strains often content a small percentage of CBD content also. So, check the CBD and THC levels of your weed if you are consuming cannabis while taking SSRIs.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors are a more recent family of antidepressant medications. Because these medications are new, there isn’t much data to support or deny any claims that mixing SNRIs with marijuana is harmful. However, it should be noted that THC in cannabis can lower levels of SNRIs when using the antidepressant Cymbalta.
It follows then that it is possible for other SNRIs to also be inhibited when consumed with weed. Be sure to consult with a physician to see if the medication you take is safe to be consumed with cannabis.
As mentioned, the medications used specifically to treat anxiety, not including SSRIs or SNRIs, are benzodiazapines. The most commonly used so called benzos include Xanax, Valium and Librium. These types of medications do interact harmfully with cannabis. Xanax mixes dangerously with THC, CBD, opioids, alcohol and other central nervous system depressants.
Smoking weed can negatively impact the efficacy of the central nervous system (signalling from brain to body), making it more difficult for the body to break down the benzos.
More effects of mixing anxiety medications and weed can include:
Although some use cannabis to treat anxiety disorders, unfortunately, it can not be recommended to consume cannabis along with the aforementioned medications, and those alike.
There is a place in society for both recreational and medicative drugs. Some drugs even happen to overlap for both purposes. Cannabis is a recreational drug that also carries significant medical purposes, including for depression and anxiety disorders. However, if one is already taking pharmaceutical medications for depression and anxiety disorders, it is important to consider whether consuming cannabis safe.
Studies show CBD can adversely interact with some SSRI medications, however THC seems to be okay, according to accounts of cannabis smokers theselves. SNRIs are newer medications, subsequently their relationship to cannabis is less researched. However, in theory, cannabis could lower the effects of some of these medications.
It is clear, though, that the benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety disorders mix adversely with cannabis. This is something to consider when considering whether or not to begin taking a medication, or whether to begin/continue smoking marijuana while on medication. In either case, be sure to discuss the topic with a physician or medical professional before mixing medication and cannabis.