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User perspectives on cannabis and SSRIs as treatment for depression

Judy Castañeda (Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK) (School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 4 March 2020

Issue publication date: 4 March 2020




The purpose of this paper is to explore the qualitative relationship between cannabis and the most commonly used antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) through the narratives of depressed individuals who have used both drugs at one point during their lifetime. Despite their prevalence, depression, cannabis use, and SSRI use have not been previously studied together through the perspective of those who have experienced them. Using a exploratory approach, this paper investigates and compares the user experiences of these drugs.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted involving participants who were between the ages of 16–59 in the UK and have used both SSRIs and cannabis either simultaneously or at any point in their lives. Five interviews were conducted either via telephone or in person, and the method of analysis was an inductive approach which was inspired by grounded-theory.


While the two drugs were used by participants in order to relieve symptoms of depression, they were used for very different reasons and typically at different stages of their lives. Though participants did not state that the drugs were interchangeable for improving mood, their responses indicated that these drugs were viewed as two alternatives to alleviate symptoms of depression. Participants’ relationships with their doctors also played a crucial role and affected interviewees’ decisions to use either SSRIs or cannabis, as well as perceptions of the medical industry.

Social implications

This research shows the importance of doctor and patient interactions as they were crucial influences on patients’ decisions related to drugs. Participants’ experiences with SSRI and cannabis were subjective and varied, therefore, the value of personalised treatment (which may or may not include psychotropic drugs) is highlighted. These findings can help health practitioners gain a better understanding of the rationale of depressed patients in choosing treatments and thereby improve healthcare outcomes.


Given that depression is stigmatised, and cannabis use is both illegal and stigmatised, this paper examines the opinions of a difficult to reach population. Previous work involving cannabis, antidepressants and mood-elevating effects is primarily written with a biochemical or medical perspective which paid more focus on the efficacy of these drugs and had less emphasis on the beliefs of the users. This paper highlights the opinions of cannabis and SSRI users regarding these two drugs specifically, which had not been previously explored.



There are no conflicts of interest or external sources of funding to declare.


Castañeda, J. (2020), "User perspectives on cannabis and SSRIs as treatment for depression", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 74-83.



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