Dear Stoner:
Does marijuana help with depression?

Dear Searching: Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no. There’s such a wide range of studies on the subject that trying to wrap your head around it can make your hair fall out — or leave you more depressed. A survey of 4,400 adults that was funded by the Marijuana Policy Project indicated that regular and occasional marijuana users had more positive moods and fewer somatic complaints than nonusers, but it also found medical users to be more depressed than recreational users. Other published studies have shown marijuana smokers to be diagnosed with depression more often and to be more at risk for schizophrenia or psychosis than nonsmokers, but doctors don’t agree on whether marijuana is the cause of a patient’s depression or just that patient’s preferred method of self-medication.

A recent study done by the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions found that chronic stress in rats decreased their endocannabinoids, which activate the same receptors in the brain as THC. When the rats were given marijuana cannabinoids, their chronic stress was reduced. “Using compounds derived from cannabis to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Samir Haj-Dahmane, reported.

Dear Stoner: I’m aware of what terpenes are and that you love them. But what are some specific terpenes, other than just “piney” or “citrus,” and what do they do differently?

Dear Clark:
You’re right, I absolutely love terpenes. Their aromatic oils in cannabis and hops make our weed skunky and our beer wonderfully bitter. On top of providing smells and flavor profiles, scientists are finding terpenes in cannabis to have medicinal effects.

I don’t have room to list all of my favorite terpenes, but here are a few. Pinene is what gives certain strains wood and piney flavors; it's also found in pine needles, conifer trees and sage. Limonene smells and tastes like zesty citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges and grapefruits, and is present in juniper berries and fruit rinds. Humulene smells musty and earthy, like fresh soil — or a fresh bowl of OG Kush — and is a compound of hops, sunflowers and tobacco. Most studies on the compounds of cannabis flowers have focused on the plant’s cannabinoids, but as scientists learn more about terpenes, we’ll be better able to pinpoint our favorite strains.

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