Approximately 16.2 million adults suffer from depression in the US alone and an estimated 300m worldwide. Despite its prevalence, there has been no major breakthrough in depression medication for 30 years.

Depression is not a temporary episode of sadness; it is much more severe than that. When left untreated or undiagnosed, it can create severe health complications – physically as well as mentally. And the world badly needs more tools to deal with it.

The only drug recently licensed is a version of a controlled drug, ketamine, which is effective for no more than a week. Also, pharmaceutical drugs commonly used to treat depression often have mild to severe adverse side-effects such as insomnia and mood swings. That explains why the use of CBD is becoming increasingly popular, as studies have shown CBD to be effective in helping reduce depression and anxiety with far fewer side-effects.

WHAT IS DEPRESSION?

Depression is a medical illness that can adversely affect how a person thinks, feels, or acts. It is a complex condition that can differ from person to person – and often, it’s not taken seriously by others, as it is difficult to understand.

In some cases, when left untreated, it can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, and even suicide. Some of the symptoms of depression are as follows:

  • Feeling strong, overwhelming feelings of sadness or negativity
  • Extreme tiredness or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation for things that were once enjoyed
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Overwhelming guilt
  • Sense of worthlessness

It is not unusual for a person with depression to also experience physical symptoms, such as insomnia, back or joint pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.

The symptoms vary but, when identified, it is essential to seek immediate medical help.

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TREATMENTS FOR DEPRESSION

Although there a multiple treatments for depression, the most common is a combination of medication and psychological therapy. Usually, doctors prescribe antidepressants when other forms of treatments fail. 

Medicines for depression include antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, they can only be used for a limited time and can have severe side-effects.

Psychological therapy can be sought from a trained and licensed therapist who can help the patient identify the underlying issue causing their depression and work through it. They can also apply certain behavioral therapies to equip the patient with the skills necessary to manage their condition themselves. 

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and effective treatments for depression, and it can be used with children and adults alike. A therapist works with the patient to identify patterns of behavior and thought processes that are contributing to the depression, then helps to change them by introducing ways of thinking rationally and adopting a more logical and positive problem-solving approach to life. 

SIDE-EFFECTS OF PHARMACEUTICAL MEDICATION FOR DEPRESSION

After a certain point, behavioral therapy may prove to be ineffective; in which case, people suffering from depression are often prescribed pharmaceutical medication to relieve their symptoms. However, the continued use of common antidepressants often leads to more problems.

While they can be extremely effective in treating depression for many people, antidepressants change the chemical balance in the brain and can, therefore, cause unwanted side-effects. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Experiencing jitters
  • Lack of sexual drive

Antidepressants must be avoided by pregnant women, as they can cause premature delivery, the baby to be dangerously underweight, and even stillbirth.

Also, there is an ongoing debate as to whether antidepressants – when not administered cautiously, correctly, and at the optimum doses – can cause self-destructive and violent behavior. In 2004, the FDA started a black box warning for SSIs that states they may cause hostility, suicidal thoughts, and agitation in children and adults alike.

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WHAT IS CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an active ingredient found in the cannabis plant. It is non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t cause the “high” associated with marijuana use – consequently, it is non-addictive.

CBD has very similar properties to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – another compound found in the cannabis plant. Both CBD and THC are believed to possess exceptional therapeutic abilities and are being extensively researched. The only difference between the two is that THC is psychoactive (i.e. it will cause a feeling of “high”).

Since most people with depression require the health benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive effects – which can often be detrimental to their condition – CBD looks like an ideal solution.

DOES CBD HAVE ANY SIDE-EFFECTS?

CBD has gained popularity in recent years due to the numerous health benefits it is believed to provide. Many people also prefer it because it is derived from a natural source and is, therefore, perceived to be less harmful to your body than pharmaceutical drugs.

That brings us to our next question: does CBD have any side-effects?

Like any other substance, CBD should be consumed in a controlled manner. You should seek advice from a medical professional before beginning to take it and build up from low doses until you find the optimum dose for you and your condition.

Common side-effects of CBD include:

  • Appetite changes: CBD can increase appetite. This could result in an unwanted change in your daily intake of food if you are taking CBD for a reason unrelated to appetite disorders.
  • Dizziness: CBD can decrease people’s blood pressure, leading to a possible feeling of lightheadedness.
  • Mood changes: CBD may cause an unwanted change in your mood if you are not taking it for mood-related reasons.
  • Tiredness: CBD may cause drowsiness to some.
  • Diarrhea: When some users consume CBD in extremely high amounts, they may get diarrhea.
  • Nausea: When mixed with other ingredients, CBD supplements may cause discomfort depending on your body and the ingredients used.
  • Dry mouth: CBD can inhibit saliva production when consumed in large amounts, resulting in a dry mouth.

While sometimes unpleasant, these side-effects are not particularly serious and will not result in any long-term damage or serious detriment to the body. Additionally, it is virtually impossible to overdose on CBD.

More importantly, however, CBD may interact with medication or preexisting conditions. For example, glaucoma sufferers should not consume CBD as it can exacerbate the ocular pressure associated with it. CBD can cause the levels of other medications already in your system to rise, including blood thinners such as Coumadin.

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HOW SHOULD CBD BE CONSUMED?

There are many ways to consume CBD, and it is available in the form of oils, tinctures, capsules, edibles, and even topical creams. It works best when consumed regularly, so levels are built up in the body – but as previously mentioned, this poses no threat as it is not an addictive substance.

However, it is important to note here that the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD, so it should only be purchased from reputable sources that provide up-to-date third-party lab test results.

To ensure the quality of your CBD, find a US company which uses locally produced hemp. Companies who know their farmers can ensure no contamination has taken place. Also, prefer producers who test their products throughout the various production stages, ideally, at a third-party lab certified for CBD testing. Finally, the best companies publish their test results online, so you can easily check each bottle’s test results for purity and potency.

NEURAL REGENERATION

Although antidepressants cause an immediate rise in serotonin levels, it often takes weeks before an improvement in mood is noticeable.

This is because curing depression is much more complicated than just inducing a sudden spike in serotonin levels.

Depression disrupts neural plasticity (also known as neuroplasticity), which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself in response to any injury, disease, new experience, or a change in the environment. Studies show that stress and negative emotions caused by the disruption of neuroplasticity play a significant role in the development of depression.

Additionally, a global study found that depression, when not appropriately treated, can shrink the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain linked to memory and emotion. This is known as atrophy.

However, as scary as that might sound, treatments for depression can cause a reversal of atrophy in the brain, which is known as neuroregeneration or neurogenesis. People once thought that neuro regeneration was only possible in young people, but that is far from true – we now know that the brain is able to regenerate throughout our life.

Antidepressants stimulate the process of neuro-regeneration in the hippocampus, which is why it takes time – sometimes weeks – before people start to feel them working. The brain’s neurons need some time to heal, grow, and create new connections.

It is not, however, just antidepressants that stimulate neuro-regeneration. Studies have shown that some other supplements and lifestyle choices can also be effective.

CBD AND ITS EFFECT ON NEURO-REGENERATION

Recently, the FDA gave approval for CBD to be used to treat epileptic seizures in children, which it does by protecting the neurons in the hippocampus.

As depression causes atrophy of the hippocampus, is stands to reason that CBD may be effective in the treatment of depression. Several studies have been conducted in animals as well as humans to explore this possibility:

  • Studies on humans: long-term regular use of THC has been shown to cause mental, physical, and cognitive harm to humans. This damage is profound in the hippocampus region, which is where depression causes atrophy. A study conducted on long-term users of THC showed that CBD can help restore hippocampus neurons.
  • Studies on rodents: a study on rats demonstrated the beneficial effects of CBD in neuro-regeneration, showing that CBD caused significant reduction in atrophy.

There have been various studies conducted on how CBD promotes the restoration of damage caused by atrophy:

  1. Endocannabinoid system (ECS): the ECS is vital for the regulation of physiological functions, including sleep, pain, memory, appetite, inflammation, mood, and even reproduction. It includes natural cannabinoid receptors found in our body. Research has shown that taking small doses of CBD can help support the ECS (read more on the endocannabinoid system here).
  1. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): the BDNF helps not only to stimulate the growth of new neurons in our brains but also to strengthen the existing ones. The BDNF protects us against depression and neurodegenerative diseases, and supports weight loss. Some studies have shown that CBD promotes BDNF levels in the hippocampus; however, not all studies unanimously agree with this result. It could be that dosage is crucial, as research indicates that CBD may be biphasic, having one result for low doses and its opposite for high ones.
  1. Serotonin receptors: serotonin not only induces feelings of happiness and mental well-being but also relieves anxiety. CBD activates the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, which has a substantial effect on other neurotransmitters in our body. This, in turn, considerably influences the stimulation of neuro-regeneration in the hippocampus (read more on the relationship between serotonin and CBD here).
  1. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ): not all receptors are on the outside of your cells; some are located within – for instance, PPARγ is on the nucleus of cells. PPARγ – also known as the glitazone receptor – is a master regulator of lipid metabolism, insulin sensitization, adipogenesis, and inflammation. CBD binds itself to this receptor, instructing the DNA to produce anti-inflammatory and neuron-protecting compounds, thus giving CBD its neuro-regeneration properties.

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CAN CBD TREAT DEPRESSION?

While it’s apparent from various studies and research findings that CBD aids neuro-regeneration, one cannot claim definitively that it can treat depression. However, preliminary studies in this area have created a strong base for further research and there is encouraging evidence suggesting it may play an important role in the fight against depression.

Evidence by experiment

Most experiments regarding CBD’s effects are done in labs in vitro before being conducted on animals or humans.

These studies found that CBD helps to relieve anxiety, which is often a potential trigger for depression and, therefore, should be controlled and managed.

The pre-clinical trial results for CBD in effectively managing anxiety disorder symptoms are highly promising. However, instead of studying the effects of long-term use, most studies have been limited to acute administration of CBD. One study showed that CBD could disrupt the formation of memories of generalized, as well as specific, fears in rats.

Although there has been no significant experiment conducted on humans to test CBD’s effect on depression, pre-clinical experiments carried out on rats that were deemed to be depressed had positive results. The rats were put into deep water, and their ability to swim and for how long was recorded – the rats that gave up quickly were considered to be depressed. However, the effect of the CBD was not visible immediately, and it took some time (one day) to kick in. Another study on mice showed that CBD was more effective in treating depression when administered in combination with SSRIs.

Evidence by circumstances

A study focusing on state-level suicide data in the US from 1990 to 2007 found that there had been a reduction in the suicide rate in men aged between 20 to 29 in states that had legalized marijuana in comparison with states that hadn’t legalized marijuana.

Although it’s too early for clinical proof that CBD treats depression, people who have consumed it often claim it is effective in relieving their symptoms. 

Evidence by circumstance also comes from Rimonabant – a weight-loss drug that worked in the opposite way to CBD in that it was a CB1 receptor blocker. Initially, the drug was approved in Europe in 2006 but was banned worldwide in 2008 due to the severe adverse psychiatric effects it produced. Data from clinical trials showed that Rimonabant caused mood disorders in 10% of users and suicidal and depressing thoughts in around 1%. The FDA never approved Rimonabant; therefore, it was not available in the US. However, the drug attracted worldwide attention as scientists finally realized the effect of cannabinoids on mental health.

Even though CBD’s positive effects on depression are not yet clinically proven, this evidence suggests it can provide people with depression with much-needed relief without the harmful side-effects of pharmaceutical antidepressant drugs. However, pharma companies need first to solve the problems of consistent quality and dosology.

Hopefully, with more people claiming the benefits of CBD, more research will be conducted into the use of the cannabinoid in the treatment of depression.

Conclusion

Depression is a mental illness that can often be severe. Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of understanding around it and, as a result, it is sometimes not taken seriously. However, in recent years, awareness of the condition has risen, and more attention is being paid to ways in which it can be recognized, diagnosed, and treated.

CBD has gained popularity in recent years for several reasons. Its claimed health benefits are plenty; its side-effects are usually minimal. Additionally, it is natural, readily available, and easy to consume.

Even though it’s still too early for clinical proof that CBD can be used to treat depression, there are reliable indicators which suggest it may. An increasing number of people are claiming that CBD has helped them in their struggle against depression, so it has become the subject of increased focus and research. It is hoped this will continue in the near future.

Despite the many claims that CBD can relieve some of depression’s symptoms, we must emphasize that it is not the first suggested treatment – it is just one option that could possibly provide relief. 

If you think you are depressed, the best course of action is to seek professional help as soon as possible. Always consult your doctor before starting any kind of treatment, including CBD – especially if you are already taking any pharmaceutical drugs or have a medical condition.

Do you have any experience on using CBD to treat depression? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!