Mood Disorders and Medical Cannabis Treatment

Sarah Walker

by Sarah Walker

January 12, 2024 10:51 am ET Estimated Read Time: 9 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho


  1. Are Cannabinoids a Good Treatment Option for Mood Disorders?
  2. How Does the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) Play a Role in Treating Mood Disorders?
  3. What Cannabis Preparations Are Suitable for Mood Disorders?
  4. What are the Signs, Symptoms, and Types of Mood Disorders?
  5. Mood Disorders: Causes and Complications
  6. Talking to Your Doctor About Mood Disorder Diagnosis and Treatments
  7. Complementary Treatments Worth Discussing with Your Doctor

“Mood disorders” is an umbrella medical term relating to a category of diagnoses in psychiatry featuring notable fluctuations and disruptions in emotions. Most cases involve severe lows called “depression” or highs called “hypomania” or “mania.” The word “mood” is defined as “a pervasive and sustained feeling tone that is endured internally and which impacts nearly all aspects of a person’s behavior in the external world” (1).

When someone experiences mood disorders, their internal and external world can be turned upside down. A wide range of mental health conditions fall into this category of disorders, including bipolar disorder, cyclothymia, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, hypomania, major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. 

Each of the aforementioned psychiatric disorders may increase the risk of morbidity and mortality (1). Patients who suffer from ever-changing mood swings will likely have a chemical imbalance in the brain areas responsible for managing emotions and feelings, such as the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. 

Brain imaging tests have revealed that patients with mood disorders have an enlarged amygdala, which suggests that abnormalities in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex contribute to mood disorders. Ventricular expansion can also occur from repeated episodes of mood disorders (1). 

Studies have found that patients who used medical marijuana for mental health conditions like anxiety had better cognitive performance and reduced clinical symptoms. Additionally, cannabis has been shown to decrease people’s use of conventional medications, such as benzodiazepines, opioids, and other mood stabilizers and antidepressants (2). 

Are Cannabinoids a Good Treatment Option for Mood Disorders?

Cannabinoids are responsible for the physiological effects of cannabis. There are hundreds of active compounds, but delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most well-known and well-researched. These cannabis plant-derived chemicals exert their effects after coming into contact with receptors inside the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and endocannabinoidome (eCBome).

Cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are abundant in the human body. CB1 receptors are contained within the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as in the liver, skeletal muscle, pancreas, myocytes, platelets, and adipose tissue. CB2 receptors are mainly in immune cells and tissues. The psychotropic effects of THC are produced when THC binds to CB1 receptors (3). 

On one hand, people with mood disorders may need to be careful about their marijuana consumption. Regular marijuana use may cause disorientation and unpleasant thoughts or feelings of anxiety and paranoia. This is more likely to happen if you have a low tolerance and consume high doses. Research suggests that cannabis users are also more likely to develop side effects like temporary psychosis or severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia (4). 

On the other hand, a growing pool of scientific research and clinical trials have unearthed the potential mental soothing and calming effects of non-psychoactive cannabinoids. For example, the non-psychotropic compound cannabidiol (CBD) is frequently touted as an anxiety reliever. 

A large case series from 2019 showed that anxiety scores decreased among 72 adults who used CBD at a psychiatric clinic over the course of a month (5). This is a common, positive finding among CBD studies on anxiety and neuropsychiatric conditions. Interestingly, CBD does not work by activating CB1 and CB2 receptors – instead, it works by increasing or restoring our levels of endocannabinoids like anandamide.

Cannabigerol (CBG) is another cannabinoid that produces anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects. Overall, people with mood disorders might want to avoid high consumption of THC since it may increase feelings of anxiety, dysphoria, psychotic symptoms, and drowsiness/sedation in healthy people.

How Does the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) Play a Role in Treating Mood Disorders?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an active and complex cell signaling network. It involves a combination of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors that help regulate several functions in the human body. The discovery of the ECS occurred in the 1990s after a chemist isolated the first endocannabinoid in the human brain. Since that time, researchers have been learning more about this system and the role it plays in bodily functions (6). 

Cannabis acts via at least two types of cannabinoid receptors, named CB1 and CB2 receptors, among many other beneficial receptors in the body. CB1 receptors are located primarily on central and peripheral neurons (including the enteric nervous system), where they modulate neurotransmitter release, whereas CB2 receptors are concerned with immune function, inflammation, and pain.

What Cannabis Preparations Are Suitable for Mood Disorders?

One of the main appeals associated with medical cannabis use to treat mood disorders is the diversity in terms of product options. Various cannabis preparations are available:

  • Edibles 
  • Pills, capsules, and tablets 
  • Cannabis powder  
  • Topicals and transdermal patches 
  • Vapes 
  • Tinctures 
  • Suppositories

What are the Signs, Symptoms, and Types of Mood Disorders?  

If you have a mood disorder, you may deal with a distorted or inconsistent overall emotional state. Functioning as normal can be a tricky task for people with mood disorders since this broad scope of disorders can cause extreme sadness, emptiness, irritability, and spontaneous moments of elation or increased productivity. 

Listed below are some common symptoms associated with the main types of mood disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder – Otherwise known as “manic depression” or “bipolar affective disorder,” this mental health condition switches between states of depression and mania. The degree of mania determines the type.
  • Cyclothymic disorder – The symptoms of this disorder are similar to bipolar, but less extreme.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder – Children who experience regular outbursts of anger and disability may be diagnosed with this disorder.
  • Depression related to medical illness – A long-lasting depressed mood and reduced interest in activities associated with the physical effects of another medical condition.
  • Depression induced by substance use or medication – Symptoms of depression that transpire following substance use or withdrawal. May also occur after exposure to certain types of medication.
  • Major depressive disorder – Tedious and intense periods of extreme sadness accompanied by a host of physical symptoms.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder – Mood changes and irritability that arise during the premenstrual phase of a female’s cycle and disappear when menstruation occurs.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) – A long-term (chronic) form of depression characterized by depressed mood for a minimum of 2 years.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – People exposed to fewer hours of daylight in the far northern and southern latitudes between the seasons of late fall to early spring may be at higher risk of developing SAD.

Mood Disorders: Causes and Complications

People with substance use disorders are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with a mood disorder, known as comorbidity. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (7), 1 in 15 U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder (7). Research has even linked alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, and opioids to mood disorders during active consumption or the withdrawal stage.

Genetics can play a major role in the development of mood disorders, and one known cause of developing a mood disorder is having one or more family members with one. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to develop a mood disorder. 

Other contributing factors for mood disorders include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Where you live 
  • Poor nutrition
  • Occupation type
  • Financial situation
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor support system
  • History of abuse
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Significant weight changes
  • Substance abuse
  • Medical conditions (including injuries, infections, chronic illnesses, and cancer)
  • Medication use (including opioids, corticosteroids, and antiepileptic medications)

If a mood disorder is left untreated, it could escalate into anxiety, addictive behavior, depressive episodes, eating disorders, or suicide attempts. More than 12+ million U.S. adults have had serious thoughts of suicide – a warning sign that a mood disorder has reached a critical point – within the past year (8). Self-harming and developing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are two other complications of mood disorders.  

Remember, if you have any worsening psychiatric symptoms or suicidal ideation with or without cannabis, you must contact your healthcare provider right away or seek local emergency services.

Talking to Your Doctor About Mood Disorder Diagnosis and Treatments

Recovering from mental illness requires a specialized treatment program that may include psychotherapy, medication, and self-care. While you might be feeling vulnerable at this time, it’s important to remember that there’s no need to feel ashamed about talking with a mental health expert about mood disorders.

In 2020, 46.2% of American adults with mental health disorders received treatment (9). During the same year, 64.5% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment (9). Four years prior, 41.6% of U.S. adolescents and young adults aged 12-17 with a mental health or anxiety disorder received treatment (9)(10). There is no shame in seeking care if you need it, and access to mental health services is fortunately increasing in many states. 

Arrange a meeting with a healthcare professional if you feel that your work life, social activities, and relationships are being disrupted by a mood disorder. It’s also important to talk to a mental health counselor right away if you have suicidal thoughts, behaviors, or substance use problems.

Complementary Treatments Worth Discussing with Your Doctor 

The terms “complementary medicine,” “complementary and alternative medicine,” and “complementary therapies” relate to many self-healing tools and techniques designed to strengthen the body’s natural healing capabilities. Examples of complementary medicine that are generally welcomed in cases of mood disorders include meditation, exercise, therapy, and frequency sound baths.

Keep in mind that while medical marijuana and other complementary medicines can prove beneficial for you or a loved one with a mood disorder, you must continue using any medication(s) and treatments like therapy that are prescribed by your doctor.

To learn more about the effects of cannabis use on mood disorders, contact one of our physicians today.

The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

1. Sandeep Sekhon; Vikas Gupta. (Updated 2023). Mood Disorder. National Library of Medicine.

2. Sara Zaske. (2018). Can marijuana ease mental health conditions? American Psychological Association.

3. Sarah-Lena Puhl. (2020). Cannabinoid-sensitive receptors in cardiac physiology and ischaemia. ScienceDirect.

4. Mental Health. (2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

5. Scott Shannon, MD, Nicole Lewis, ND, Heather Lee, PA-C, and Shannon Hughes, Ph.D. (2019). Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente Journal.

6. What to know about endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. (Reviewed 2021). Medical News Today.

7. Mental Health by the Numbers. (Updated 2023). National Alliance on Mental Illness.

8. Suicide and Suicidal Behavior. (Updated 2023). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

9. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

10. Daniel G. Whitney, Ph.D, Mark D. Peterson, Ph.D. (2019). US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children. JAMA Pediatrics.

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