Depression Medication: Cause or Effect?

Anxiety and depression have become so common in the United States that they had to create a new professional association for them, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). The pandemic has further increased the already high number of people suffering from these conditions. According to the Kaiser Foundation, during the pandemic, about 40% of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms. That’s compared to the 10% who reported symptoms during the first half of 2019. 

Doctors and therapists commonly write prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. As of March, 2020, 37 million Americans were taking antidepressants, and that number increased by 6% in 2021. Unfortunately, there is a long list of side effects for most of these medications. Arguably, the worst side effect is suicidal ideation. Already depressed people’s budgets can also suffer some serious side effects from these medications, too, especially if they don’t have insurance. The average monthly cost of a generic antidepressant after the patent has run out is $62.50 for 30 tablets. Brand-name antidepressants still under patent protection cost a staggering average of $487.75 a month. That could be the reason that profits from anti-depressants reached $26.25 billion dollars in 2020. As of March, 2020, 37 million Americans were taking antidepressants, and that number increased by 6% in 2021. 

An increasing number of people, to avoid both the high cost of these medications and their side effects, are turning to cannabis products for relief from the symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is especially true for people whose depression is rooted either partially or entirely in chronic physical pain. There have been a number of clinical trials that show that cannabis can reduce anxiety as well as relieve chronic pain. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of pharmaceutical opioids to reduce chronic pain resulted in a record high of 96,779 deaths due to overdose from March 2020 to March 2021. That number represents an increase of 29.6% from the number of deaths caused by opioid use the previous year. 

In 2018, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, in response to a question about whether marijuana was a gateway drug, replied ”To them it’s competition for chronic pain, and that’s outrageous because we don’t have the crisis in people who take marijuana for chronic pain having overdose issues…It’s not the same thing. It’s not as highly addictive as opioids are.” By “them”, she was referring to corporations such as Insys Therapeutics, which makes products that contain fentanyl and other opioids. They also manufacture a synthetic version of a natural cannabis product, THC. In 2016, Insys Therapeutics donated $500,000 dollars towards defeating a measure on Arizona’s ballot that would have legalized marijuana. Such donations to political campaigns by pharmaceutical companies are one reason that the laws surrounding the use of marijuana have come to resemble a badly stitched patchwork quilt in the United States. There are still four states in which marijuana is completely illegal. Only CBD, but not THC, is legal in seven states. In nine states, it’s decriminalized and legal for medical use only. In two states, it is decriminalized only. Eighteen states have completely legalized it. However, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, as well as still being labelled as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. That makes for a less than secure feeling both for those who need it for medicinal purposes and for those who sell it. 

Our neighbors to the north in Canada have much more consistent, and sane, laws regarding marijuana. They passed the Cannabis Act in 2018, standardizing the law regarding the growth, use, and possession of marijuana throughout the country. That act focused on achieving three things: preventing children from having access to marijuana, preventing the growth of a criminal element within the industry and protecting public health and safety. In addition to achieving those three goals, the passage of the act has also resulted in some further social benefits. One of those is the reduction of people both in jail for possession and the number of Canadians with criminal records that prevent them from living happy, useful and fulfilling lives. 

An additional benefit of the act is that the production of cannabis products is regulated and the dosages of the active ingredients are consistent throughout the industry. That’s one reason that an increasing number of Americans are purchasing products from a growing number of locations in Canada. You can easily locate a dispensary by typing in “marijuana Toronto” or a city near you. Sane laws are also the reason that Canada has become the dominant exporter of marijuana. Companies are able to raise capital and build international trade. Many places in the U.S. have better soil and weather conditions for growing marijuana, but until there are sane laws, the U.S. will just have to remain a spectator in the international marketplace. The saddest part is that legal access to marijuana might have saved some of those 996,779 lives lost to opioids last year.


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