EducationCan CBD help ease the symptoms of depression?

Can CBD help ease the symptoms of depression?

8 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Can CBD help ease the symptoms of depression?

Contents

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid derived from the cannabis sativa L. genus, often sourced from hemp cultivars (which are part of the same plant species) thanks to their high CBD and low THC content. It has gained significant attention in recent years for its potential wellness benefits, particularly in the treatment of anxiety, pain, and inflammation. It is also commonly taken as a complementary therapeutic option for the reduction of depression symptoms, alongside traditional treatment protocols.

Having taken the high streets by storm as a lifestyle additive for the health-conscious, it is now readily available as an ingredient in topical creams and balms, food products, and cosmetics. CBD is also commercially available in oil, tablet, and dried flower form.

Studies have suggested that cannabidiol may be therapeutically beneficial in relieving some psychological and physical symptoms that people with depression experience every day. This includes improving mood, regulating sleep, reducing anxiety or stress levels and relieving unexpected aches and pains. 

In this article, we aim to answer the question, ‘Can CBD help ease the symptoms of depression?’ by discussing what the evidence proposes about cannabidiol’s benefits or therapeutic potential as a treatment option for mental health conditions, specifically depressive disorders.

Does CBD help with depression?

In early 2021 it was found that 1 in 5, or 21% of the UK’s population, have experienced some form of depression, with global diagnosis numbers believed to be around 280 million. Now in the UK, and around the world, increasing numbers of people suffering from a range of depressive issues are turning to CBD to help them manage their symptoms or medication side effects, in the hope of unlocking its therapeutically calming and relaxing properties. But, how does it work?

Like all other cannabinoids, when CBD is consumed, it interacts with the body. This interaction occurs through the fascinating and intricate network known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is a complex system that plays a crucial role in regulating and modulating various processes, responses, and functions within our body and brain, including our emotions. By engaging with the ECS, CBD influences the delicate balance of neurotransmitters, receptors, and enzymes, which potentially promotes a sense of well-being and supports overall health. By understanding the mechanisms behind CBD's interaction with the ECS, we can appreciate the remarkable possibilities of this natural compound to enhance our physical and emotional well-being.

One critical aspect when analysing the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol on depression, is the interaction between this cannabis compound and the regulation of the serotonin – which is also the target for conventionally prescribed antidepressants, aptly named selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Scientific evidence shows that CBD is able to interact with 5-HT1A receptors in the brain, which are the receptors that produce serotonin, and increase their production levels. In patients with depression, serotonin levels are typically low, which results in low moods, a lack of motivation, and increased feelings of anxiety. And so, these findings demonstrate the potential benefit cannabidiol may have when administered to patients with depression. 

Evidence for CBDs antidepressant effects

Whilst an animal study from 2010 found that serotonergic receptors were affected in the same way by CBD as conventionally prescribed antidepressants, such as SSRI’s, suggesting that they operate within the body similarly, there has been a delay in the uptake of human trials. This is due to a couple of factors, but mostly the prohibition of the use or research on cannabis products in a number of territories, and the relatively recent legalisation and regulation of medical cannabis.

Other animal studies have shown that in stressful situations, animal models have demonstrated calmer reactions and responses when CBD had been administered than their natural instinctual reactions, indicating CBD may reduce stress, anxiety, and fear. 

In 2022, the results of a human study were published by a team of Psychiatrists in Poland who assessed data from an online survey of those self-treating depressive symptoms with CBD, strengthening the suggestions made from animal models.

The findings from this study showed that 59% of those self-treating their depressive symptoms started to consume CBD for this reason – 53% declared it was definitely helping them, and a further 33% said they thought it was probably helping them. 

How CBD can help with symptoms of depression

Although there are a limited amount of clinical trials that investigate the direct relationship between CBD and depression that demonstrate its efficacy in humans, there are a number of valuable studies that show the influence CBD can have on the psychological and physical symptoms associated with depression. 

For example, in 2019 a large case study that assessed the effects of CBD on sleep and anxiety levels demonstrated its therapeutic potential in these areas. This study saw 48 patients report a significant improvement in their sleep quality, and almost 80% of the participants involved experienced a reduction in their anxiety scores. 

Another study from the same year also assessed cannabidiols efficacy in treating sleep disorders, but this time in patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This study reported an improvement in the sleep quality experienced, with much fewer disturbances or triggering nightmares when CBD had been administered. 

Although this study was focused on PTSD, many mental health conditions have the same symptoms, and so this evidence is also relevant to consider when questioning whether CBD can help with depression.

Risks and side effects of CBD

In general, CBD is typically well tolerated by patients and is accompanied by few or minimal side effects, however, just like any kind of medication or lifestyle additive, the administration of cannabidiol should be closely monitored, and considered carefully. 

Although CBD was deemed a safe substance that does not have the significant potential to cause harm by The World Health Organisation in 2017, and has far fewer significant side effects or associated risks when compared to the conventionally prescribed antidepressants, it is still important to be aware of their possibility. 

Dry mouth, drowsiness, low blood pressure, nausea, and gastric discomfort are all known side effects of CBD, and although they are typically deemed as mild adverse reactions, they can be uncomfortable to experience. 

When this is combined with the possible risk of CBD interacting with other prescribed medications that may be in your system, which could cause more serious long term effects such as liver damage, it is clear to see why informing a clinician of CBD application is significant, and always advised.

Conclusion

There is an ever-increasing body of anecdotal reports and clinical data that indicates the therapeutic potential of CBD for reducing the symptoms related to depression. However, despite these encouraging findings, further research and rigorous clinical trials with human participants are necessary to comprehensively evaluate the efficacy of cannabidiol in the treatment of depression, and to provide robust evidence to support these claims. This ongoing investigation will contribute to a better understanding of CBD's mechanisms of action and its potential as a viable treatment option for individuals suffering from depression.

The future certainly seems bright for medical cannabis in general, and more specifically cannabidiol and depression reduction or control. With more countries legalising and regulating medical cannabis, the stigma surrounding its use is slowly fading away. As we continue to learn more about this plant and its potential benefits, we remain committed to providing education and support for those seeking alternative forms of treatment. We believe that everyone should have access to safe and effective healthcare options, and medical cannabis is no exception.

Releaf understands that finding a doctor who is registered to prescribe medical cannabis can be difficult. That's why we offer online consultations with our specialist doctors, as well as a unique medical cannabis card for extra protection and access to the treatment you need. If you're interested in learning more about our services or getting access to medical cannabis treatment, get in touch and one of our team members will be happy to help.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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