Johnny Depp’s cannabis use under scrutiny

Johnny Depp’s cannabis use was highlighted in the Depp/Heard trial, exposing persistent stigmas associated with cannabis use

by Dessy Pavlova · June 06, 2022

Johnny Depp Cannabis Use

The long and exhausting circus that was the dissolution of the Depp/Heard marriage–the defamation suit filed by Johnny Depp against Amber Heard for $50 million and her countersuit for $100 million–was live coverage of a trainwreck. The jury and the world at large listened to both sides accuse the other of committing heinous abuse and denying doing the same. Depp won the case, his profile arguably rising to new heights of superstardom. Heard, on the other hand, endured a severe blow to her credibility and career, while her legal team became a meme for their poorly contrived arguments. Notably, one of Heard’s main arguments was Depp’s heavy use of substances including cannabis, before and during their marriage, blaming the drug for verbal abuse and violent outbursts.

This is not the first time cannabis has been blamed for abusive behavior despite the overwhelming body of evidence of its beneficial effects. Heard’s team’s attempt to scrutinize Depp’s cannabis use in order to portray him as an unstable individual underlines the need to keep fighting the persistent stigmas associated with the plant.

A Lot of Weed

Heard’s team presented mountains of evidence showing Depp’s extensive use of cannabis and other substances. This evidence included pictures of 4 large bags of marijuana that allegedly belonged to Depp, text messages about obtaining and using marijuana on a daily basis, and a witness testimony that claimed Depp had shown them his “marijuana closet.” This was followed by Heard’s testimonies of Depp losing control and physically and sexually assaulting her on multiple occasions while under the influence. In one instance, Heard told the jury that Depp “reeked of weed and alcohol” and harassed her. Depp’s team responded by presenting numerous witnesses who asserted that Depp does not lose control and appears, for the most part, unaffected when under the influence. They followed this with damning evidence of Heard physically and verbally abusing Depp, including one instance when Depp’s finger was severed by a vodka bottle that Heard threw at him. Depp won the countersuit and was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

Johnny Depp's cannabis use is medical

During the trial, Depp openly admitted to his decades of substance use, stating that it began at the age of 11 with his mother’s “nerve pills” and included using every known drug by age 15. He was sober for many stretches over the years, he testified, but often self-medicated to combat the “ghosts and wraiths.” Depp and his sister, who testified on his behalf, discussed their traumatic childhood at the hands of their abusive mother, who doled out physical, emotional, and psychological abuse during their upbringing. In one of his texts to an assistant, Depp indicated that weed kept him calm and detached, and in the trial against The Sun newspaper, Depp admitted to heavily using cannabis during his relationship with Heard, stating that it was "very helpful with regard to anxiety, sleep, sense of well-being, calmness – there are a lot of medicinal qualities to cannabis."

Trauma and cannabis

There is a variety of well documented evidence that cannabis is a powerful treatment for trauma related ailments like PTSD. In a study by Wayne State University, THC was shown to reduce neurological activity in the amygdala in individuals with PTSD, the part of the brain that controls anxiety and fear responses. Another study at The University of Pennsylvania found that PTSD patients who used cannabis experienced significantly reduced symptoms and were 2.57 times more likely to make a full recovery than those who didn’t. A study by Federal University of Parana in Brazil reviewed over 50 years of research and determined that THC and CBD can “suppress anxiety and aversive memory expression without producing significant adverse effects.” Other evidence has shown that proper cannabis use reduces depression, insomnia, panic attacks, nightmares, and other trauma related symptoms. Some sexual assault survivors, for example, have reported being able to feel comfortable in their body again and experience having normal sexual intercourse after their assault once they began using cannabis.

Fighting the stigma–a small battle won?

It’s unlikely the cannabis-use argument falling flat for Heard’s legal team was the main reason the jury ruled in favor of Depp; the case was a mess of accusations of behavior that went way beyond using weed.

What is likely true is that the old, tired stigma of cannabis causing wild behavior rang hollow for most people who followed the trial. While prejudice towards cannabis endures and is still being used to paint people in a negative light, in this instance, at least, it was a non-factor.