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Comparing Medical Marijuana and Traditional Antidepressants

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting about 21 million U.S. adults every year.

Depression patients are most commonly treated through a combination of therapy and prescribed antidepressant medications. Antidepressants manipulate the neurotransmitters that the brain uses to regulate mood, executive function, and other physical responses—people living with depression can sometimes face specific neurotransmitter deficiencies. But these medications often take weeks to kick in, and they can cause side effects that can potentially make matters worse.

Fortunately, antidepressants don’t have to be your only medication option.

Many people using medical marijuana for anxiety and depression begin feeling its positive effects without the wait that normally comes with antidepressants. And they don’t have to experience any unwelcome side effects, either.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between antidepressants and medical marijuana and why getting a medical card for depression is the right choice for many patients.

Depression: More Than a “Chemical Imbalance”

Before explaining how antidepressants work, it’s helpful to have a solid understanding of what they treat.

“Depression” is a general blanket term that covers many different mental health conditions. Among others, this includes:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar depression
  • Postpartum depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder (sometimes called “winter blues”)

While these disorders vary in their causes, they’re all characterized by depressive episodes. A depressive episode is a period of low mood, fatigue, or sadness that negatively impacts your daily life.

Depending on its severity, depression can be quite debilitating. But what’s happening on a biological level?

The belief has long been that people with depression have a chemical imbalance in their brains, but new research is complicating this theory.

Many different brain chemicals are involved in depression, but the most well-known and well-studied ones are:

  • Serotonin
  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine

Low levels of these chemicals, also called neurotransmitters, have been said to contribute to depression symptoms. While this is often true, the cause of depression is more complex than that. There is a vast array of neurotransmitters that could have a potential role in your depression, making it difficult to pin your symptoms on one or two of them in isolation.

Nevertheless, antidepressants are mainly used to correct neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain.

Chemical Blockades: How Antidepressants Work

Antidepressants are designed to increase the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, therefore increasing positive cell activity and promoting higher moods.

There are several different types of antidepressants, but the two most popular options are:

  1. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  2. Serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Both medications block nerve cells from absorbing these neurotransmitters so that they remain available and active between cells. This creates higher serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which is supposed to ease feelings of depression.

While antidepressants can help uplift your mood, it often takes at least four to eight weeks for patients to start feeling effects. It may also take a while for patients and their providers to find the proper dosage. For people living with depression, this is valuable time lost.

Antidepressants also feature several undesirable side effects, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Weight changes
  • Changes to sex drive and functioning

Antidepressants align more closely with the “chemical imbalance” theory that dominates the current body of knowledge surrounding depression. But just because they work for some people doesn’t mean the root cause of depression is low serotonin or norepinephrine levels.

Achieving Balance: The Endocannabinoid System and Medical Marijuana

You may believe that antidepressants are the only feasible treatment option for depression—even with their lagging reaction times and negative side effects. But just as low serotonin levels aren’t the sole cause of depression, SSRIs aren’t the sole treatment.

In reality, many people are currently finding relief from their depression symptoms through the use of medical marijuana. But how does it work?

While antidepressants attempt to balance neurotransmitter levels in the brain, marijuana works with your body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Your ECS controls many different functions in the body, including:

  • Inflammation
  • Memory creation and retainment
  • Emotional processing
  • Pain management

It also plays a large role in mood regulation, which is why imbalances can lead to bouts of depression.

Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) influence the brain’s neurotransmitters. They’re activated by cannabinoid molecules, which tell the receptors what to do through immediate feedback.

How does marijuana come into play?

The Cannabis sativa plant, the source of all marijuana products, is made up of many different types of compounds, including cannabinoids.

There are many cannabinoids present in cannabis, but the most well-known ones are:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – Gives marijuana its psychoactive properties
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) – Relaxes the mind and body, without the high

Cannabinoids in marijuana mimic the natural cannabinoids in the body and are therefore able to interact with and influence the endocannabinoid system—which, in turn, helps regulate pain, mood, inflammation, memory, and more.

What Makes Medical Marijuana Stand Out from Antidepressants

If you’ve been let down by past experiences with antidepressants or feel discouraged from seeking treatment for your depression, medical marijuana may be the answer.

Medical marijuana offers:

  • Faster relief – Antidepressants take weeks to begin working—if they ever do work for you. Many people find much faster relief by using medical marijuana, which can be essential when you’re feeling depressed.
  • Reduced risk of adverse effects – People interested in stopping antidepressant use often must wean off the medications. Attempts to discontinue use after long-term treatment can cause antidepressant discontinuation syndrome: effects can include flu-like symptoms, irritability, and anxiety. And weaning off antidepressants, when done safely, can take about four weeks. Medical marijuana isn’t habit-forming, so you can start or stop taking it at any time.
  • Individualized approach – Medical marijuana use can be tailored to your specific needs. Unlike antidepressants, which are only designed to do one thing, there’s a wide variety of medical marijuana products that produce different effects. Your doctor can help you find the products that will most aptly target your symptoms.

If you think medical marijuana may be the better treatment route for you, you first need to obtain a medical marijuana recommendation from a licensed doctor. At TeleLeaf, that’s our mission—connecting patients to the holistic, plant-based care they deserve.

Obtaining Medical Marijuana for Depression

With all of the above in mind, you might be wondering, “Can I get a medical card for depression?”

Medical marijuana laws vary by state, but many list mental health issues as valid reasons for its use, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD

While they don’t list depression by name, other states qualify any condition that would be alleviated through medical marijuana use. This is the case in California and Louisiana, for example.

At TeleLeaf, we don’t expect you to be an expert in your state’s medical marijuana laws—but we are. When you make an appointment with us, we’ll match you with medical professionals who are certified to provide medical marijuana recommendations. They can help you figure out if medical marijuana is right for you and how best to obtain it in your state.

We’ve made it our mission to make medical marijuana more accessible to the people who need it most. If you’re currently living with depression and haven’t found the relief you deserve, we believe medical marijuana is the answer you’ve been searching for.

TeleLeaf Is Here to Help You Find Relief from Depression

Depression can foster feelings of hopelessness and isolation; relief may seem unattainable in the face of your draining symptoms.

But we’re here to tell you that real relief is possible with medical marijuana.

We’ve built our community around holistic healing that complicates (and, in many cases, complements) the Western view of medicine. Our doctors don’t merely give you a medical marijuana recommendation; they act as your support system through your entire healing process.

Plus, you can get approved for a medical marijuana recommendation right from the comfort of your own home. Reach out to our team when you’re ready to schedule your first appointment and start feeling better sooner.


Mental Health America. Quick Facts and Statistics About Mental Health.

ScienceNews. A chemical imbalance doesn’t explain depression. So what does?

Cleveland Clinic. Antidepressants.

Harvard Health Publishing. The endocannabinoid system: Essential and mysterious.

LawInfo. Who can get a medical marijuana card in California? What medical conditions qualify?

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