A preliminary rat study out of the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) points to the possibility that certain components in marijuana might be helpful in treating chronic stress-related depression.

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, focused primarily on endocannabinoids — chemicals in the brain that are quite similar to the chemicals known as cannabinoids in marijuana. Endocannabinoids are involved in appetite, memory, mood, and pain sensations. They’re also involved in the psychoactive effects that cannabis has on us, as well as brain functions like cognition, behavior, and emotions.

The researchers found that in animal models, chronic stress reduced the production of endocannabinoids, which in turn led to depressive symptoms. “Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression,” said Samir Haj-Dahmane, a senior research scientist at RIA, in the press release. “Using compounds derived from cannabis — marijuana — to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”

But the authors are quick to note that the research is preliminary, and more evidence will be needed to back up their claims — not to mention they’d have to test this in humans for it to really be seen as effective.

Marijuana And Mental Health

The marijuana and depression debate has been going on for years now, and this study may add to the discussion but it doesn’t end it. It’s complicated. Every individual is different, and the matter is made even more complex due to the wide variety of marijuana strains available, each one affecting individuals uniquely. Depression treatments must be tailored to fit each person; one depressed patient might benefit from cannabis, while another might find their anxiety is heightened from the drug.

However, the limited research that does exist involving marijuana’s beneficial health effects has found that it might assist in battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, stress, and even chronic pain. A team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) completed a study on weed and anxiety, finding that relief from stress was one of the main reasons why people use it.

“Cannabis and its derivatives have profound effects on a wide variety of behavioral and neural functions, ranging from feeding and metabolism to pain and cognition,” the authors wrote. “However, epidemiological studies have indicated that the most common self-reported reason for using cannabis is rooted in its ability to reduce feelings of stress, tension, and anxiety.”

So it’s true. Cannabis can target the endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for anxiety and fear in the human brain. But is cannabis the best way to get there and keep things in order? That’s a question that still hasn’t been answered. No one is saying marijuana is a cure for depression, but it’s certainly an area of research that should be further explored.

Source: Haj-Dahmane S, Shen R. Chronic Stress Impairs α1-Adrenoceptor-Induced Endocannabinoid-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity in the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2015.