CBD and depression: What does the research say?

cbd for depression

CBD and depression: What does the research say?

  • Depression is a common mood disorder that may cause feelings of hopelessness or profound sadness.
  • Traditional treatment involves pharmaceutical medications and psychotherapy.
  • CBD is a natural plant compound that could support people with depression, anxiety, and other health issues.
  • Research looking into CBD and depression is in the early stages, but some results are promising.

Depression is a serious mental illness that affects almost 280 million people worldwide. If you’re living with depression, you may feel hopeless, exhausted, and unable to enjoy life.

The traditional approach to treating depression is with medication and psychotherapy, but there may be a new option.

CBD is a natural hemp compound that’s attracting attention for its ability to support wellbeing. Studies suggest that CBD positively affects pain, inflammation, sleeping issues, and quality of life.

More recently, studies have demonstrated its potential in mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

Continue reading to learn more about CBD potential benefits for depression and why you should consider adding this non-intoxicating plant product to your routine.

What is depression?

Depression is a common but serious mental health condition that can affect anyone. It’s a persistent and deep feeling of hopelessness and despair that can be overpowering.

It’s normal to feel sad or depressed at times, perhaps because of loss, personal problems, or other life stressors. However, if symptoms persist for weeks or months with no obvious cause, it could be clinical depression.

Depression can cause a wide range of mental and physical symptoms, including:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Emptiness
  • Loss of interest
  • Poor concentration
  • Feelings of excessive guilt
  • Low self-worth
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Thoughts about dying or self-harm
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

During a depressive episode, a person may experience significant difficulty in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, and other important areas of functioning.

Doctors may diagnose depression if the individual has these symptoms most of the time for at least two weeks.

The underlying causes of depression are a complex interplay between social, psychological, and biological factors. While there is no single cause, it’s often triggered by a major life event such as the death of a loved one, job loss, financial problems, or other traumatic events.

Depression can lead to a downward spiral of harmful thoughts and behaviours that can be difficult to break out of and that negatively affect the person’s life even further.

Thankfully, there are effective treatments for depression, and there’s no need to suffer in silence. Doctors may advise antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, exercise therapy, or other approaches. More recently, CBD — short for cannabidiol — has stepped into the spotlight as a potential option.

What is CBD?

CBD is one of the many chemical compounds found in the hemp plant. Hemp is a subspecies of Cannabis sativa cultivated to have negligible levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). In the UK, CBD is legal, providing the plants from which it’s extracted contain less than 0.2% THC.

Unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning it doesn’t produce a “high” sensation, but it still has numerous health-supporting effects. 

CBD interacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance.

The ECS is a network of cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2, that exist throughout the tissues, including the brain and central nervous system.

It also comprises natural neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids and enzymes that break them down once they’ve performed their function.

cbd for depression

The ECS regulates multiple bodily functions, including:

  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Pain perception
  • Inflammation
  • Temperature regulation

CBD has been shown to have various positive effects on wellbeing, including supporting people experiencing pain, inflammation, and sleeping issues. It also shows potential in the field of mental health for conditions including anxiety and depression.

CBD and depression: Can it help?

Yes, the initial results of early research into CBD and depression appear promising and may offer future direction for further studies.

What does the research say?

Some studies highlight CBD’s therapeutic potential, but it’s important to understand that many are animal studies or have limitations. Although human studies exist, further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between CBD and depression.

A 2014 review of animal studies found that CBD appears to positively affect serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabiliser and is involved in memory, learning, and other physiological processes.

Serotonin impacts feelings of wellbeing and happiness, and therefore, it’s essential to keep this neurotransmitter balanced in people with depression. 

The review also noted that CBD appears to have antidepressant and antianxiety effects in animal models of depression.

A more recent review from 2018 concluded that multiple studies have demonstrated the anti-stress and antidepressant activity of CBD in animal models after short- or long-term use.

In a further research study from 2018 on CBD and depression, scientists found that a single dose of CBD induced antidepressant-like effects in mice and rats.

Furthermore, a later 2020 study with almost 400 participants looked at CBD and depression, among other issues. These individuals were prescribed CBD for mental health issues, neurological problems, and pain. Following three weeks of CBD use, all participants reported that their quality of life improved. Additionally, those using CBD for anxiety and depression noted improvements in their daily functioning and reduced anxiety symptoms.

Scientists are continually learning about the complex interplay between CBD oil and depression. It’s an ongoing area of research, although findings are promising and could guide further large-scale clinical studies into CBD oil and depression in humans.

CBD vs antidepressants

cbd for depression

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for people with depression and include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

CBD may have some advantages over these medications, which can take time to start working. For example, a 2019 animal study found that CBD had an immediate and long-lasting antidepressant-like effect.

Likewise, a 2019 review of research on CBD and depression noted that the antidepressant-like effects of CBD have been recorded in various animal models.

As a natural product, it may also cause fewer side effects. Antidepressants are known to cause insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, dizziness, mood swings, and sexual dysfunction. However, most people experience minimal side effects while using CBD.

Although CBD has benefits, it is not a replacement for prescription antidepressant medications. If you’re considering adding CBD to your routine, talk to your doctor and ask for guidance before changing your regular medication schedule.

Can CBD help with anxiety?

Yes, CBD may help with anxiety, a mental health issue that often accompanies depression. You may feel tense, worried, and experience physical changes like increased blood pressure if you have anxiety.

Serotonin, and other neurotransmitters may contribute to anxiety disorders. CBD may increase the action of serotonin receptors and influence mood more quickly than selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a commonly prescribed antidepressant.

Additionally, a 2015 review suggested that CBD interacts with various receptors that regulate anxiety behaviours. These include the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor and CB1 receptors in the brain.

CBD may function as a 5-HT1A agonist, which is the target of SSRIs. These medications prevent the brain from absorbing serotonin, which increases its availability and allows it to communicate messages between nearby nerve cells. Therefore CBD may lift mood and improve anxiety.

cbd for depression

There is evidence that CBD could help anxiety in humans. For example, a 2019 retrospective study looked at CBD and anxiety. Researchers examined the effects of CBD on 72 participants experiencing anxiety or sleep issues. More than 82% reported that their anxiety was reduced during the first two months of CBD use.

Another 2020 review yielded further positive results. The authors looked at CBD and anxiety disorders and found evidence to support it as a therapy on its own or as a complementary therapy to other medications. It could help in various anxiety disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder.

Other ways to combat depression

Depression is a complex condition and often requires a multifaceted approach to treatment.

If you’re struggling with depression, it’s important to seek professional help even if you feel drained and hopeless. Depression is a treatable condition, and you can work with your doctor to create a suitable treatment plan consisting of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

In addition to professional help, there are things you can do to manage depression and help you on the road to recovery. Try incorporating the strategies into your life if you’re feeling depressed:

cbd for depression
  • Connect with friends and family — Instead of withdrawing from life, try socialising and confiding in people.
  • Be more active — Exercise may help lift your mood. Going for a gentle walk means a change of scenery and fresh air.
  • Face your fears — Although it’s tempting to avoid challenging situations, it can cause a loss of confidence. So, if you feel yourself avoiding travel or social events, try facing up to them instead.
  • Reduce alcohol intake — People may drink alcohol to hide their emotions or as a way of coping, but in the long run, alcohol won’t help and can make you feel more depressed.
  • Eat a balanced diet — Some people find comfort in food, while others find depression leaves them with little inclination to eat. Antidepressants may also affect your appetite. However, it’s important to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutritious foods in your diet to help your body stay healthy.

Remember that it’s essential to get help if you’re still feeling down or depressed after a couple of weeks. Depression can worsen over time, so it’s crucial to get the right diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

How much CBD should I take?

The optimal dosage of CBD differs from person to person, and there’s currently no recommended standard daily dose. Instead, the amount that works best for you depends on factors such as your height, weight, and reasons for taking CBD.

To help you find a suitable dosage, we provide a CBD Oil Dosage Calculator. Generally, if you’re new to taking CBD, we recommend starting low and going slow, for example, 20 mg, per day for the first week. You can then increase the dosage by a small amount every few days until you find a dose that works.

You should note that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends a maximum total daily dose of 70mg of CBD for all types of CBD products combined.

How to take CBD

cbd oil vs cbd capsules

If you’re considering using CBD and depression is an issue, you can choose from a wide range of products, including CBD oil, CBD capsules, CBD gummies, and CBD edibles, each with specific benefits.

CBD oil is taken sublingually by placing a few drops underneath the tongue and holding them for a minute or so before swallowing.

The CBD oil passes through the oral mucosa and enters the bloodstream for rapid effects.

Other products such as CBD capsules, CBD gummies, and CBD edibles are great alternatives to CBD oil and provide an easy way to manage your dosage.

However, because these products pass into your digestive system, the effects are slower to materialise, taking up to 2 hours to work but providing relief for up to 8 hours.

Is CBD safe?

Yes, CBD appears safe and doesn’t cause many side effects. That said, some people may have sensitivities and experience:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in weight or appetite

The World Health Organization (WHO) noted that CBD is considered well-tolerated with a good safety profile.

Nevertheless, if you’re taking other medications, it’s important to discuss CBD with your healthcare provider to minimise side effects or drug interactions.

CBD and depression: The takeaway

Depression is a common mental health issue that many people face. Doctors may recommend treating it with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. However, some people are now turning to alternatives, like CBD.

The initial results of some studies into CBD and depression look promising, but more research is needed to confirm these results.

CBD is generally considered safe with few side effects. If you’re interested in trying CBD and depression is an issue, start with a low dosage and increase it gradually until you find an amount that works for you. Be sure to discuss CBD potential benefits with your healthcare provider first.

Disclaimer: There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of CBD in the condition(s) mentioned above and this text by no means reflects recommended uses. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional if you are taking prescribed medication or are thinking of using CBD for your condition.

Written by Zia Sherrell and reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU


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