EducationThe science behind CBD and depression symptom control

The science behind CBD and depression symptom control

9 min read

Sam North

The science behind CBD and depression symptom control


We all feel down from time to time. It is, quite simply, part of the human condition.

But for some, these low periods can be more intense and longer lasting, with seemingly no end to the sadness. 

Clinical depression is a serious mental health condition that can take an emotional, physical, and financial toll on those living with it. And unfortunately, it is on the rise.

Since the 2020 pandemic, global rates of clinical depression diagnoses have risen dramatically, with more than an estimated 280 million people worldwide now suffering from depression. The same has been seen here in the UK, and in early 2021 more than 21% of adults living in the UK experienced some form of depression. That is more than double the pre-pandemic rate of 10%.

As mental health professionals and researchers scramble to find ways to deal with this mental health crisis, the need for additional treatment options has never been more pronounced. While the combination of conventional pharmaceutical options and therapy can be effective for some, many still struggle to find a solution that works for them.

The potential for natural, complementary treatment options - such as medical cannabis, and specifically cannabidiol (CBD) - to help those living with depression is gaining traction.

CBD is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant, and while it does not contain any of the psychoactive properties associated with recreational cannabis consumption, research shows that CBD can have an effect on mental health disorders including depression.

While research into the effects of CBD on depression is still in its preliminary stages, there has been some pretty encouraging research pointing to CBD as a potential treatment addition for not only depression but also anxiety and stress.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid produced by both cannabis and hemp plants. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the other major cannabinoid produced by most cannabis cultivars, CBD is non-psychoactive. That means it won’t produce any of the intoxicating effects associated with cannabis consumption, while still offering potential health benefits. 

CBD products have been legal in the UK since 2017 and are now widely available – but not all CBD products are created equal. More on this later.

How CBD potentially reduces the symptoms of depression

While most of us understand that cannabis has the ability to interact with the human body, very few comprehend the actual processes and mechanisms behind this.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS)

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network located throughout the brain and body. It is made up of three major players -

  • Receptors (CB1 and CB2) – Playing the role of traffic lights, these receptors control the activity of most of our neurotransmitters.
  • Endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body) – these are the internal molecules that interact with the ECS receptors, allowing the ECS to modulate the activity of various functions in the body, including mood and emotions.
  • Enzymes – these synthesise the endocannabinoids, and then break them down once they have performed their function.

While experts are still in the process of figuring out the full role of the ECS, it has been shown to regulate a wide range of processes and functions and is thought to help control homeostasis (balance) in the body.

Researchers are also still trying to work out exactly how CBD interacts with the ECS (and other neural networks), but it is thought to work in three main ways.

CBD and the reduction of enzymatic breakdown

The breakdown of cannabinoids is a critical factor in how they interact with the ECS. When an endocannabinoid (or a cannabinoid from a plant-based source like CBD) binds to an ECS receptor, the body breaks it down using enzymes.

While more research is needed to make conclusive statements, studies suggest that CBD may effectively reduce the rate of enzymatic breakdown in the ECS, allowing for longer and more effective activation of the receptors.

Serotonin and CBD

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter often referred to as the ‘happy molecule’. It has a direct influence on human mood and emotion, with low levels of serotonin correlating with feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. Many antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by increasing serotonin production or its uptake in the brain, which helps to boost mood and improve psychological well-being.

CBD has been shown to interact with the serotonin receptor (5-HT1A) in the brain. This interaction may very well result in increased production of serotonin, which suggests that this could be why CBD works for treating mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Neurogenesis and CBD

Neurogenesis is the process where new neurons (brain cells) are formed. It is vital for cognitive and emotional well-being, and a lack of it could lead to impaired mental functioning.

Studies have shown that CBD administration can stimulate neurogenesis, and this has been suggested as another possible mechanism of action in its antidepressant effects. CBD may also be able to protect existing neurons from damage and allow them to function at optimally.

What are the CBD dosage recommendations?

Again, the need to stress that more research is required before any concrete claims can or should be made regarding CBD dosage sizing for depression symptom control is paramount. But, there is some evidence that proposes that a wide range of CBD dosage sizes may be potentially effective in treating depression.

One study, from 2019, looked into the effectiveness of CBD on symptoms of depression in rats. It found that a dose of 30 mg per kg of body weight reduced the outward signs of helplessness, which is a feeling commonly seen in people dealing with depression.

This is an exceptionally large dose compared to what is normally recommended for humans, which typically ranges from 10 mg to 600 mg per day, depending on body weight, age, and symptoms.

Most healthcare professionals, when prescribing CBD for the symptoms of depression, suggest a dosage at the lower end of the scale. A common dosage size at this point in time is around the 15 to 30 mg per day mark, which is much smaller than the dose administered in the study mentioned above.

If you are interested in adding CBD to your treatment plan, it is vital that you first seek the advice of a doctor that is registered to prescribe med cannabis, and one that has experience doing so for the symptoms of depression. Only they will be able to provide you with advice and guidance that is tailored to your individual needs.

Factors affecting CBD dose for depression symptom control

Finding the correct dose for CBD and depression is tricky, as there are a bunch of factors that come into play. Not only is it bodyweight dependent, but it also hinges on personal tolerance and physiology, your current medication regime, and the quality and concentration of the CBD prescribed.

As we mentioned above, not all CBD products are created equally. In recent years, we have seen the market flooded with products that contain little to no CBD, so it is important to do your due diligence before making any choice.

The importance of consulting with a doctor that is registered to prescribe medicinal cannabis, and sourcing your CBD products through a reputable source cannot be overstated. CBD should not be viewed as a magic cure-all or a replacement for traditional medications or treatments, but instead as a potential ally in the fight against depression.

Risks and precautions

As with all therapeutic drugs and supplements, there are certain risks associated with taking CBD for depression. While the side effects linked to CBD usage are minimal when compared to many pharmaceutical drugs (especially those prescribed for depression), it is still important to be aware of them and take precautions.

The most commonly seen side effects of CBD usage are

  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • gastric discomfort
  • bloating
  • drowsiness
  • low blood pressure

It is advised that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid taking CBD, as well as individuals taking any medications that could interact with CBD. If you are considering using CBD for depression, it is essential to first consult with a healthcare professional and let them know about any and all medications you are currently taking.


So, there we have it.

The effectiveness of CBD for depression symptom control is still being studied, and more research is needed to further understand the potential benefits and risks of taking it. However, there are extremely promising signs that it could be a safe and effective addition to existing treatments, offering relief from the symptoms of depression for many.

If you are considering taking CBD for depression, it is critical to consult with a doctor first and ensure that you source high-quality products from a reputable vendor.

If you would like more information on how medicinal cannabis might be able to help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our team of experienced healthcare professionals are here for you, and will always take the time to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

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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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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