You don’t have to suffer from clinical depression to know a thing or two about the winter blues. Everywhere north of the subtropics, life slows down, becomes sadder, bleaker, less enjoyable. With or without depression, the experience is downright depressing.

There are tools to fight January moping, though, and some of them work quite well. If you’ve ever toked your way through an especially gray, frigid winter, you know marijuana can be one of those things. But just how well does it work at keeping the winter blues away?

Real depression vs. winter blues

DepressionBefore we get to that question, there’s an important distinction to make. Real depression, the kind that warrants a medical diagnosis, is not the same as the ordinary seasonal ho-hums. It’s much more serious, and it requires specialized tools. Weed may be one, but it isn’t enough for most patients. Medication and therapy are typically critical, too. Keep that in mind if your low mood slides into genuine suffering.

That said, cannabis can help a lot of people with either depression or just the plain old blues. The drug’s mood-boosting qualities are well known, and while scientists are split on its merits, patient stories suggest it’s highly effective at treating mood diseases such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Cannabis rarely recommended for depression

Psychiatrists rarely recommend pot for depression, however. That may reflect misconceptions about the drug and its supposed emotional hazards, but it also reflects scientific caution. Patient anecdotes simply aren’t enough for many doctors to recommend a new, “experimental” prescription drug. They want hard data.

But those anecdotes are legion, enough to convince many other observers, including many scientists. No state yet allows the use of medical marijuana strictly for depression or anxiety, but that could change in coming years. Already several states have added post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety-related mental condition, to their lists of qualifying diseases.

Marijuana calms anxiety

We know little about how marijuana works on depression and the blues, but the euphoric sensation of being high likely plays a significant part. Medical marijuana is also known to fight anxiety, frequently a counterpart to clinical depression. And it may have as yet unexplored long-term effects on depression.

Many patients report that cannabis drives away their depressive episodes and keeps them at bay over long stretches of time. The drug appears to be somewhat less effective in treating other mood swings, such as the energized manic episodes experienced by patients with bipolar disorder. But there has been little scientific research on the effect of the drug on these states, so it’s possible it helps.

But what if you don’t have depression? What if winter just sucks for you? You certainly wouldn’t be alone: Even many people without mental health issues experience lower moods in the darkest, coldest months. Can weed help you, too?

If you smoke, you probably know the answer to that question already, at least as far as it concerns you. If you don’t but you’re looking for a new way to lighten the spirit of the season, it’s an open question. Marijuana works a little bit differently on everyone, so it’s at least possible it could make you feel even worse. Then again, if you’re lucky, it might just lift your winter misery until spring.


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