EducationCan THC and CBD reduce the symptoms of depression?

Can THC and CBD reduce the symptoms of depression?

7 min read

Sam North

Can THC and CBD reduce the symptoms of depression?

Contents

With rates of depression in the UK steadily rising, and only boosted by the recent pandemic, finding treatment solutions can be a daunting task. Now more than ever, it is important to understand all the potential treatment options available. One of those options may include taking medical cannabis as part of your therapeutic plan.

In November 2018, legislation was passed in the UK that made it legal for people suffering from a wide range of physical and mental issues to be prescribed cannabis-based medicine. One condition included in this list is clinical depression. 

Before we go any further, it is essential to point out that medicinal cannabis should never be seen or promoted as a cure for depression, or any other condition, for that matter. 

Cannabis may be administered to potentially help manage the symptoms of depression. Still, it should always be done in collaboration with conventional and accepted forms of therapy, and pharmaceuticals (if needed), as well as in consultation with a doctor or clinical team. 

Depression (along with anxiety) is the most diagnosed mental health condition in the UK, with symptoms that range from mild to severe and include:

  • feelings of helplessness
  • excessive sadness
  • a lack of motivation
  • low self-esteem
  • excessive feelings of guilt
  • having thoughts concerning self-harm
  • having suicidal thoughts

CBD and THC are two of over 110 cannabinoids that have so far been isolated from the Cannabis Sativa plant, and the two that are found in the highest concentrations in the vast majority of cannabis cultivars. Hemp, a cousin of cannabis, produces high concentrations of CBD with little to no THC. THC is responsible for the intoxicating ‘high’ that people often associate with cannabis, while CBD has no intoxicating effect at all.

When it comes to medicinal cannabis and depression, both may offer therapeutic benefits, but how do you choose which one is right for you?

Let's have a look at what the science is saying.

Differences between CBD and THC

While both are classed as phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced outside the human body) and possess the potential for offering therapeutic benefits, the main differences between CBD and THC are in their chemical structures and psychoactive effects.

THC is the primary psychotropic compound in cannabis and is responsible for producing the euphoric effects that people often associate with the plant. It binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, leading to a range of effects that include altered senses and perception, changes in mood and behaviour, feelings of well-being and happiness, and possible impairments in cognitive functioning. THC has been legal in medicinal settings since 2018 in the UK, but is still illegal for recreational use.

CBD, on the other hand, does not interact with the CB1 receptors in the same way, nevertheless, there is evidence to show that it can bind with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, albeit in a weaker way. 

Researchers are still delving into the exact processes behind how CBD interacts with the human body, but there is evidence to show that it not only reduces the breakdown of our endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the human body), it has also been shown to boost serotonin production. Products containing CBD are fully legal in the UK as long as they meet strict regulations.

And although both cannabinoids come with a range of possible therapeutic benefits, there are some side effects that you should be aware of.

THC administration, especially in large doses, can cause paranoia or anxiety, a racing heartbeat, impaired motor skills, red eyes, a dry mouth, and an increased appetite among other adverse effects. CBD, on the other hand, has been well-tolerated in clinical trials regardless of the dosage size, although it can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort, red eyes, and low blood pressure for a small subsection of patients.

Which is better for reducing the symptoms of depression: CBD or THC?

There are some differences between the two regarding the symptomatic reduction of depression. The research still has a long way to go before any sweeping statements can be made regarding their efficacy, but both look to offer potential relief.

The main difference we need to discuss is the fact that THC is psychotropic. While this intoxicating effect can offer feelings of joy, euphoria, and relaxation, it can also lead to paranoia and anxiety in some users. This seems to be very much dose-dependent, as does the effectiveness of the cannabinoid in helping to manage the symptoms of depression, such as difficulty sleeping.

One 2022 study titled “An investigation of cannabis use for insomnia in depression and anxiety in a naturalistic sample” found that people suffering from depression, or a mix of both depression and anxiety, perceived benefits from taking cannabis for sleep. CBD-rich strains may be less helpful (when it comes to inducing restful sleep).

On the other hand, CBD is non-intoxicating and may be a better choice for those who are sensitive to the psychotropic effects of THC.

It has been shown to interact with the 5-HT1A receptors, boosting serotonin levels. Raised serotonin levels are known to correlate with lower levels of depression, so this could be a significant factor in CBD’s potential to help depression sufferers.

Another study looked into how cannabis products with varied levels of THC and CBD may help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. It found that 50% of participants reported a reduction in depression after medicinal cannabis administration, and that strains that were high in CBD (10%+) and low in THC (less than 5.5%) were best for the reduction of depression.

One thing is for certain, though. Before making any decision regarding medicinal cannabis and its potential benefit for depression, you should consult with a medical professional. They will be able to review your individual case and advise you on the best course of action.

Conclusion

While the need for further clinical research into how cannabis may benefit people suffering from depression is clear, the anecdotal evidence and the currently available science are certainly promising. Products offering a lower percentage of THC with higher levels of CBD seem to be the best option, at this stage anyway. 

But in the end, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for another, and so speaking to a medical professional before making any decisions regarding medicinal cannabis is always recommended.

If the idea of medicinal cannabis does interest you, and you would like to learn more, we are here to help.

Releaf understands the importance of medical cannabis in treating various medical conditions. With our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, you can access the treatment you need without worrying about the stigma. 

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

Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

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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