Cannabis & Depression: Studies Suggest Marijuana Can Help

There’s no denying that life, with its unpredictable twists and turns, can be a bit overwhelming a lot of the time. Though many people don’t like to talk about it, depression has become a common ailment among both teens and adults, with more than 300 million people affected by it worldwide. Some people have found ways to cope and manage depression through exercise, diet, self-care, therapy, prescription pills or other alternatives that seem to lighten the load. But for others, these methods might be helpful but they still struggle with consistent and intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, chronic fatigue, loss of interest and low self-esteem.

Some studies have shown that cannabis can effectively reduce some of the symptoms of depression. One study recently published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that smoking cannabis can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. It also suggests that high-CBD/low-THC strains were most effective among their participants. The study specifically looked at the effects of smoked cannabis.

Researchers found that after just two puffs, participants began to feel relief from symptoms of depression and after 10 puffs, they could feel their stress levels drop.

If smoking is not an option for you due to health reasons, your living situation or otherwise, you can still utilize cannabis in other ways, such as through edibles or tinctures, if you find it helps with your depression. Because depression can vary from moderate to severe, each approach will be different but should consider your tolerance, lifestyle and how you want to feel before you start using cannabis as a remedy. As the study suggests, strains that are high in CBD and low in THC may provide relief, but you may consider looking into the terpene profile of particular strains when you are deciding what will be best for you. Strains that are high in linalool or myrcene may help you feel calmed and relaxed, while strains with limonene can help boost your mood and increase energy.

The study suggests that low amounts of cannabis can be helpful with depression, so microdosing appears as if it could also be an option if you are interested in experiencing some relief without any strong intoxicating side-effects. Microdosing — or utilizing small amounts of THC, usually around 2.5 mg of THC or lower — has been shown to provide benefits that can be helpful in relieving some of the root problems that can lead to depression, such as stress, anxiety, insomnia and isolation. Because it is hard to tell how much THC you’re inhaling when smoking, microdosing with tinctures, oils and edibles is best. Medical marijuana doctors usually recommend starting with one dose per day and then gauging how you feel after a few days. If needed, increase to taking microdoses twice a day. Continue to monitor how you feel and adjust as necessary.

If you experience body aches or tension related to depression, you can also try using an infused topical. There are creams, lotions, salves and even bath salts that you can use to relieve the discomfort. You can feel free to use them daily without any psychoactive effects whatsoever.

It’s important to note that the study also suggests that cannabis may be best as a short-term treatment, so it may be a good idea to employ other strategies as a part of your long-term treatment. Depression is a serious condition that may require medical treatment and supervision, and relying on self-medication isn’t always effective. Cannabis is just one resource of many for treating depression. It can be useful, but don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you are not experiencing relief from your symptoms or find that they are getting worse.

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The Rise of CBD Strains

In the southern Oregon town of Takilma — a longtime hippie enclave just above the California border in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains — one farm is focused on developing new strains of cannabis. Their mission is not to breed for maximum THC or any particularly trendy flavor expression, but to create strains with an optimal balance between CBD, THC and various terpenes to achieve tailored effects.

The farm is called East Fork Cultivars, and its CEO Mason Walker is a former journalist and editor at the Portland Business Journal who himself uses medical marijuana to control his pain from a serious neck injury in his youth.

“Our roots are in the medical approach to cannabis breeding,” Walker says. “We started selecting varieties high in CBD for therapeutic effect.”

Pineapple Tsu: 13.7% CBD / 0.5% THC

In order to create strains that can best address specific ailments, East Fork Cultivars has focused on cultivating under three broad categories. First, they’re growing out “CBD-dominant” varieties to find phenotypes that typically have less than 1 percent THC and subtle effects, including with Ringo’s Gift, Sour Tsunami and Cenarius. Second, they’re cultivating “CBD-rich” varieties have high CBD content but also around 5 percent THC, including Bubba Kush and an East Fork original strain, Pineapple Jager. Third, they’re growing “THC-dominant” varieties that are the more typically potent strains that outlaw growers long strove for, including Strawberry Satori.

With this spectrum of cannabinoid concentrations, Walker says their selections appeal to “new cannabis consumers who are curious,” but not necessarily looking to get high.

Each fall, the team at East Fork Cultivars harvests one acre of CBD-rich cannabis from its farm in Southern Oregon’s Illinois River Valley.

Through their work developing a wide range of CBD-rich phenotypes and breeding new strains, East Fork is at the forefront of the larger CBD trend, trying to ensure that the increasing crowds of cannabis consumers looking for CBD strains have more options to choose from than the handful currently on the market.

“We’re still early on in our breeding work,” Walker says. “Of our 15 top-selling varieties, three of them we bred ourselves and the other 12 are well-established varieties that someone else bred — but we expect that number to basically flip in the next two years.”

From Llamas to Cannabis

Flowers grow between the rows at East Fork Cultivars.

East Fork was started by the brothers Nathan and Aaron Howard. Aaron, now the company’s chief operations officer, moved from his native Portland to southern Oregon about 10 years ago to grow cannabis under the state’s medical program. (Oregon voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1998, the second state to do so after California.) He initially cultivated as caregiver for a third brother, Wesley, who suffered from neurofibromatosis and epilepsy.

In 2015, Aaron was among the first cultivators in the country to start growing high-CBD strains, and the following year, purchased the 9-acre property in Takilma. At the time, the property was a llama ranch, so the East Fork team inherited three llamas along with the land. The animals have since passed on, but the company’s logo is still a llama — and the laser focus on CBD has not wavered.

Bubba Kush: 13.3 % CBD / 5.9 % THC

“We supply CBD-rich cannabis to other companies who turn it into infused products,” Walker says. “We extract oils for chocolate bars, topical salves, tinctures and beverages.”

Walker says that East Fork is shying away from selling cannabis flowers to consumers, because he thinks the end of cannabis prohibition is changing the way people want to ingest the plant.

“Back during Prohibition [in the 1920s and ’30s], people wanted high-potency moonshine,” says Walker. “With cannabis prohibition, there was the same secretiveness and incentive for high-potency stuff. Now that we’re moving out of prohibition, people are demanding more types of cannabis that are more nuanced. The same way we’re consuming more wine and beer as opposed to moonshine. Nowadays, you don’t hear people say, ‘What’s your strongest stuff?’”

Breeding for CBD

In 2017, the team at East Fork Cultivars harvested 3,300 lbs of cannabis uses garden carts and bicycles.

East Fork’s most cutting-edge work is its on-site breeding program. When selecting and testing new strains, Walker says the farm is focused on creating strains with high levels of “chemical diversity.”

“The beauty of cannabis is it’s one of the most chemically complex plants on the planet,” Walker says. “We focus a lot of time and energy and money on developing the largest diversity we can, in terms of combinations of CBD and terpenes.”

He notes that the linalool terpene, which smells like lavender, is often used to reduce anxiety, while the citrus-smelling terpene limonene is said to have an energizing effect.

“Multiple terpenes have synergistic interactions with each other, creating yet new effects,” he says. “That’s what makes cannabis really fascinating.”

One of East Fork’s original strains with notable limonene content is Wesley’s Wish, named for Wesley Howard, who found the strain gave him relief from his neurofibromatosis and epilepsy before he passed away last year. It is a cross between Pineapple Tsu and Purple Hindu Kush, which Walker describes as “one of the most popular THC-heavy strains in Oregon.” But while Purple Hindu Kush is typically more than 20 percent THC, Wesley’s Wish is only some 5 percent THC and 15 percent CBD.

Wesley’s Wish: 12.7% CBD / 4.5% THC

Another emphasis of East Fork’s breeding program is to broaden the genetic pool of high-CBD strains, especially given the problem that high-CBD strains generally have smaller yields than high-THC strains.

“There’s not a lot of genetics available that are both high-CBD and high-yield, so we’re making them ourselves,” says Walker. “We’ve had a couple of hits — varieties that are high-CBD but also high-yield, and are promising in terms of appearance and other standards cannabis is generally judged by.”

East Fork has sourced their high-CBD genetics over the past five years from California, Oregon and Europe. The farm is currently expanding their genetic library by sourcing high-THC plants from Oregon growers and collaborating on breeding projects with other farms in the adult-use system, splitting the seeds at the end of the project.

ACDC: 17.9% CBD / 0.5% THC

Walker says East Fork is headed in the direction of growing entirely from seed rather than clone. This year, their ratio is about 50/50.

“Plants grown from seed have more vigor, more pest-resistance,” Walker says. “A lot of people call them a truer expression of the plant.”

East Fork is also bred with an eye on cannabinoids besides CBD and THC. Walker mentions tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), which is believed to have appetite-suppressing qualities. He also names cannabichromene (CBC), which has shown potential to inhibit tumor growth, and cannabigerol (CBG), which research suggests may help with vision problems such as glaucoma and intraocular pressure.

Business in the Gray Zone

Under Oregon cannabis regulations, the largest licensed cannabis grow can only cultivate up to 40,000 square feet of canopy, which is an area of just under 1 acre.

In Takilma, East Fork Cultivars has reached that 40,000 square feet canopy limit on a section of their original 9-acre plot of land. On the new 24 acres, Walker says they’re planning to grow hemp.

East Fork Cultivars Co-Founder and COO Aaron Haward prepares a cannabis bouquet, combining a fresh cannabis cola with dried straw flowers.

While CBD can also be extracted from hemp, this plant — legally defined as having less than 0.3 percent THC — falls under a different legal classification than cannabis. The cannabis strains grown on the original plot are overseen by the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, but the hemp plants on the new land will be overseen by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The cannabis farm is grown in a fenced-in area with a security camera system, as mandated by state law.

“The state figures the best way to keep feds at bay is to regulate the heck out of the industry,” Walker says.

The Rise of CBD Strains

Canna Tsu: 10.6% CBD / 3.3% THC

But the gray area of difference between the cannabis and hemp regulations on the federal and state levels is clearly not interfering with business. Walker says the farm brought in $830,000 in revenue last year, and is expecting $1.2 million this year.

“We sold just over 1,200 pounds of cannabis last year, and we’re on pace to sell 3,400 pounds this year—nearly triple,” he says. “About 98 percent of our sales are high-CBD strains.”

“We’re just barely starting to scratch the surface of interest in CBD,” he says. “It is having a fad moment, but I think it will have more staying power than the acai berry, for instance. I think our research over the next years will uncover extensive uses both therapeutically and in terms of just enhancing peoples’ lives.”

TELL US, what is your favorite CBD strain?

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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