EducationMedical cannabis for depression explained

Medical cannabis for depression explained

5 min read

Sam North

Medical cannabis for depression explained

With rates of depression in the UK steadily rising, and only boosted by the recent pandemic, finding treatment solutions can be a daunting task. Now more than ever, it is important to understand all the potential symptom-reducing options available. One of those options may include adding medicinal cannabis as part of your therapeutic plan.


In November 2018, legislation was passed in the UK that made it legal for people suffering from a wide range of physical and mental issues to take cannabis-based medicine. One of the conditions included in this list is clinical depression. Medical cannabis should not be viewed as a cure for depression, but it may help reduce the symptoms of the debilitating mental health issue.

Depression (along with anxiety) is the most frequently diagnosed mental health condition in the UK, with symptoms that range from mild to severe and include

  • feelings of helplessness
  • excessive sadness
  • a lack of motivation
  • low self-esteem
  • excessive feelings of guilt
  • having thoughts concerning self-harm
  • having suicidal thoughts 

CBD and THC are two of over one hundred cannabinoids that have so far been isolated from the cannabis sativa L. plant, and the two that are found in the highest concentrations. THC is responsible for the intoxicating effects that people often associate with cannabis, while CBD offers zero intoxication at all.

When it comes to medicinal cannabis and depression, both may offer therapeutic benefits, but how do you choose which one is right for you?

Let's have a look at what the science is saying.

Differences between CBD and THC

While both are classed as phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced outside the human body) and possess potential therapeutic benefits, the main differences between CBD and THC are in their chemical structures and psychoactive effects.

THC is the primary intoxicating compound in cannabis and is responsible for producing the euphoric effects that people often associate with recreational cannabis. It binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, leading to a range of effects that include potentially altered senses and perception, changes in mood and behaviour, feelings of euphoria, and possible impairments in cognitive functioning. THC has been legal in medicinal settings since 2018, but is still illegal for recreational use.

CBD, on the other hand, does not interact with receptors in the same way. Researchers are still delving into the exact processes behind how CBD interacts with the human body, but there is evidence to show that it not only reduces the breakdown of our endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the human body), it has also been shown to boost serotonin production. Products containing CBD are fully legal in the UK as long as they meet certain regulations. 

And although both cannabinoids come with a range of possible therapeutic benefits, there are some side effects that you should be aware of

THC usage, especially in large doses, can cause paranoia or anxiety, a racing heartbeat, impaired motor skills, red eyes, a dry mouth, and an increased appetite among other adverse effects. 

CBD, on the other hand, has been well-tolerated in clinical trials regardless of the dosage size, although it can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort, red eyes, and low blood pressure for a small subsection of patients. It has also been shown to have negative interactions with certain pharmaceuticals, and while these are not serious, they are something that you should be aware of. 

Which is better for reducing the symptoms of depression: CBD or THC?

There are some differences between the two phytocannabinoids when it comes to the treatment of the symptoms of depression. The research still has a long way to go before any sweeping statements can be made regarding their efficacy, but both look to offer relief for clinical depression symptoms.

The main difference we need to discuss is the fact that THC is psychoactive. While this intoxicating effect can offer feelings of joy, euphoria, and relaxation, it can also lead to paranoia and anxiety in some patients. This seems to be very much dose-dependent, as does the effectiveness of the cannabinoid as a depressive symptom reductant, such as difficulty sleeping.

One 2022 study titled “An investigation of cannabis application for insomnia in depression and anxiety in a naturalistic sample” found that people suffering from depression, or a mix of both depression and anxiety, perceived benefits from using cannabis for sleep. CBD-rich strains may be less helpful (when it comes to inducing restful sleep).

On the other hand, CBD is non-intoxicating and may be a better choice for those who are sensitive to the psychotropic effects of THC.

It has been shown to interact with the 5-HT1A receptors, potentially boosting serotonin levels. Raised serotonin levels are known to correlate with lower levels of depression, so this could be a significant factor in CBD’s antidepressant effects.

Another study looked into how cannabis products with varied levels of THC and CBD may help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. It found that 50% of participants reported a reduction in depression symptoms after medicinal cannabis administration, and that strains that were high in CBD (10%+) and low in THC (less than 5.5%) were best for the reduction of depression symptoms.

One thing is for certain, though. Before making any decision regarding medicinal cannabis and its potential benefit for depression, you should consult with a medical professional. They will be able to review your individual case and advise you on the best course of action.


While the need for further clinical research into how cannabis may benefit people suffering from depression is clear, the anecdotal evidence and the currently available science surrounding its administration are certainly promising. Products offering a lower percentage of THC with higher levels of CBD seem to be the best option, at this stage anyway.

Here at Releaf, we believe that access to medical cannabis is important. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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