Depression is one of the best-known and most devastating mental health conditions. It affects a person’s ability to feel positive emotions, to socialize and even sometimes to work or get up in the morning. It is also incredibly widespread, with more than 264 million people worldwide suffering from it. Today, recent studies on the effects of cannabinoids on the brain give new hope to people with depression. In this article, we’ll cover what CBD is, how it acts on the brain and how it has been found to help with depression.
Depression and its cures
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by a consistent “down” feeling, a lack of motivation and overwhelming negative thoughts. Some additional symptoms include:
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling disconnected from the world
- Loss of interest in hobbies, passions and people
- Loss of self-confidence
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty doing simple tasks
- Self-harming or suicidal thoughts
It is usually categorized by several levels, including mild, severe, seasonal or manic depression.
The fact that depression is a mental disorder, and that it has many different forms, means that there is not just one solution to it. Following a diagnosis of depression by a health professional, a person will usually go through several therapy options. The most popular treatments for depression include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Counseling or interpersonal psychotherapy
- Antidepressants of the SSRI kind (serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
A combination of antidepressant medication and therapy is usually effective for people with moderate to severe depression. It is not uncommon for people to try out a few different therapy options and different types of medication before finding one that works. In some rare cases, antidepressants fail to work completely.
Besides, there is often a barrier to accessing these treatment options. Many health professionals fail to see depression as a serious medical issue. Many more offer treatment that is not financially accessible to people with lower incomes.
CBD oil for depression may not be as effective and well-researched as cognitive behavioral therapy or SSRI antidepressants. However, it is generally cheaper, easier to access, and has little to no side effects. As a result, many people are turning toward it either as an alternative therapy for depression or as a complement to traditional methods of treatment.
What is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. It is part of a family of chemicals known as “cannabinoids.” The other, most well-known cannabinoid is THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Although they are derived from the same plant, CBD is not a psychoactive compound. In other words, it doesn’t create a “high” in people who consume it.
CBD is extracted from the hemp plant and then activated so that our bodies can process it. It is generally sold in the form of an oil, an edible product or a vaping oil.
The medicinal effects of CBD are too many to name. Among other things, it can be used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, arthritis, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease.
Cannabinoids are compounds that are either produced in our bodies (endocannabinoids) or produced by plants (phytocannabinoids). Both of these compounds have an effect on the body and brain, on mood and appetite regulation, on pain management, on our body’s inflammatory response and many more. The medicinal uses of CBD are linked to its effects on the endocannabinoid system.
In recent years, studies on the uses of CBD for medicine have been getting more and more popular, including a few on CBD for depression.
Studies on CBD for depression
The effects of medical cannabis for depression are well researched. Throughout the years, they have shown that people who regularly consume cannabis are less prone to develop depression and that it may help with feelings of hopelessness.
Research on the use of broad-spectrum CBD (that is, cannabis oil that doesn’t contain THC) is still at a lower degree of development. As of yet, most clinical studies have been done on animals rather than humans.
A 2018 study conducted on mice found that CBD had powerful and fast-acting antidepressant effects. They concluded that CBD oil for depression was “promising” as an alternative method of treatment.
The most comprehensive research on the subject to date, a 2018 review of studies on CBD, found that it offered relief from many mental health symptoms. Among others, CBD was found to be helpful in treating psychotic disorders, social anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders and depression. This is not surprising when you consider that CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system, which controls many of the symptoms involved in these conditions.
The effects of CBD on the depressed brain
“Curing” depression is a difficult task that some claim is impossible. In many people, severe depression is a chronic, lifelong condition. Some of the most popular depression treatment options, like cognitive behavioral therapy or SSRIs, simply treat the symptoms of depression. CBD oil for depression is no exception; it doesn’t fully transform the depressed brain, but it can help a person to function at a higher level.
The most direct effect of CBD for depression is to facilitate the reception of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin, sometimes known as “the happy chemical,” is a molecule that regulates mood and sleep and creates feelings of well-being and happiness. Depressed people typically have much lower levels of serotonin, which is linked to their dark mood and sleep issues.
Antidepressants like SSRIs are effective against depression because they allow serotonin receptors in the brain to function at a higher level. CBD for depression does a similar thing: it can enhance the activity of serotonin receptors, which helps get more serotonin into the brain. More serotonin results in a direct decrease in depressive symptoms.
Depression is commonly linked to anxiety, and people who experience one are more likely to experience the other. A 2018 review of studies on CBD found that cannabidiol had some powerful anxiolytic effects. In other words, it could help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety in people with depression.
Depression is also commonly associated with insomnia or irregular sleep. People with depression will generally feel lethargic during the day but have trouble falling asleep at night. Luckily, CBD has also been found helpful in treating sleeping disorders.
CBD acts on serotonin receptors that control mood and happiness, as well as anxious responses and sleep regulation. This makes it a well-rounded potential means of treatment for depression.
Is CBD safe for depression?
CBD is widely recognized as a safe substance. Compared to antidepressants like SSRIs, it has much fewer and milder side effects. For example, SSRIs are often linked to:
- An increase in anxious feelings
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sex drive
- Digestive issues
- Difficulty sleeping
CBD oil for depression, on the other hand, only has mild side effects, including:
- Reduced appetite
Overall, CBD is generally safer than antidepressants, which can make it a better treatment option for people with mild depression.
That being said, CBD oil for depression may not be enough on its own. If you are already taking antidepressants, replacing them with CBD should never be attempted without consulting a specialist first. The withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants can be powerful. It is generally recommended to lower the dosage little by little, complementing it with alternative therapies.
Generally speaking, the more severe depression is, the more treatment it requires. CBD oil might suffice to alleviate the symptoms of mild depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it is not recommended as the sole treatment for people with more severe depressive symptoms.
Dosage of CBD for depression
With a rapidly growing market, CBD products are becoming more and more diverse. You can now find CBD drinks, CBD gummies and even CBD mint sweets.
CBD is legal on a federal level in the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC. However, it is still prohibited by certain state laws and doesn’t have FDA approval. We encourage you to consult a physician before you start taking CBD.
The traditional way to consume CBD is through CBD oil. It is often administered directly underneath the tongue, or in a capsule. CBD oil tinctures generally have different concentrations. It might be good to start with a lower dosage to see how well the substance is tolerated. Dosing 5 mg to begin with is generally a good way to find out whether CBD has any side effects on you.
A doctor with experience in CBD oil for depression will be able to advise on the best dose for your condition. Alternatively, many people find that increasing the dose of CBD progressively until they see results is a good way to find the right dosage for them. In any case, do not replace your current depression medicine with CBD without first consulting a mental health professional.
CBD targets many of the most common symptoms of depression, including low mood, anxiety and sleep issues. Due to its ability to boost serotonin receptors, regulate sleeping cycles and provide relief from anxiety, it is one of the most promising new avenues in the treatment of depression. Today, over 80% of depressed people worldwide don’t receive treatment. CBD could offer a low-risk, cheaper alternative to the most popular treatment options, and give new hope to those with mild to severe depression.
CBD for depression, anxiety and sleep disorders
2018 review of the effects of CBD on physical and mental health conditions
2018 study on the effects of CBD against depression on mice
side-effects of CBD and other popular antidepressants
Side effects of SSRIs
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD
Key facts on depression by the World Health Organization