The patients we serve suffer from a wide range of conditions and symptoms, but relief from depression, anxiety, and stress easily ranks among the most common treatment goals our patients share with us. These challenges can be debilitating on their own, but they also represent commonly occurring symptomatic responses to other acute conditions. Cancer patients, for example, may cite pain, fatigue, and nausea as primary physical symptoms, but also frequently describe mood-related symptoms as a similarly challenging problem for them.
Although patients have long reported success in treating depression, anxiety, and stress with medical cannabis, research on the subject is limited. For this reason, researchers at Washington State University have performed an innovative study which collected data from thousands of patients in an attempt to better understand if and how cannabis may be able to provide relief. Data was obtained in real time from medical marijuana patients, documenting strain selection and dosage, as well as symptom levels before and after medicating. The results show an encouraging response among the majority of respondents:
Depression: Symptom ratings were reduced in 89.3% of the sessions, increased in 3.2%, no change in 7.5%.
Anxiety: Symptom ratings were reduced in 93.5% of the sessions, increased in 2.1%, no change in 4.4%.
Stress: Symptom ratings were reduced in 93.3% of the sessions, increased in 2.7%, no change in 4%.
Both women and men reported an overall reduction in symptoms, but women reported a greater reduction in anxiety symptoms. [Forbes]
As Forbes goes on to note, the study does face limitations in terms of the self-reported nature of the data, but it does serve as a helpful jumping off point in the discussion of how and why cannabis may prove beneficial for some patients facing mood-related disorders or symptoms. For example, the results point towards a potential relationship between the type of cannabis used and the extent of symptom relief:
An analysis of the strains the app users reported smoking showed a few different outcomes depending on the percentages of THC and CBD. For depression, strains higher in CBD and lower in THC produced the largest reduction in symptoms. For anxiety, CBD and THC percentages seemed to make little difference in the results. For stress, users reported significant symptom reduction when using strains high in both CBD and THC.
Research comparing patient experiences according to cannabinoid ratios is uncommon and difficult to perform under rigorous scientific standards, but it is exactly this type of analysis which may eventually enable us to answer key questions in the science of cannabis medicine. Many patients describe strong preferences for certain strains and products based on their own treatment outcomes. An empirically-driven approach to product selection is an ideal shared by patients, physicians, and providers alike, and we welcome inquiries that seek to develop a formalized model for predicting product efficacy.
Like many other conditions our patients face, depression and anxiety present complicated symptoms that often endure despite conventional therapeutic interventions. Prescription medications can provide relief, but may not prove effective in all cases. They can also present side effects that limit their utility for some patients. The potential of cannabis medicines to provide an alternative or complementary therapy for these difficult-to-treat conditions represents yet another important area of inquiry as researchers work to inform the medical cannabis conversation.