Using CBD for Depression: 3 Reasons Why CBD Might be Better (Than Traditional Antidepressants)

CBD and Depression

Our moods are affected by our life situations, circumstances, and environments, but they’re also deeply affected by our genetics and brain activity.

Several studies have implicated a dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in models of clinical depression and many eminent scientists hope that supplementing our bodies with may prove to be an effective treatment.

More and more people are turning to CBD over traditional antidepressants and today we’re going to look at the three main reasons for their switch, as well as the scientific reasoning behind it.

Are You Considering Using CBD for Depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 8% of adults living in America suffered from at least one major depressive episode in 2019, which equates to around 20 million people in the USA alone.

Depression symptoms can vary in both severity and type from one person to the next, but usually manifest in:

  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and/or self-loathing
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • General disinterest in events, hobbies, and/or self-care
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in appetite, weight, and/or sleeping schedule
  • Negative and sometimes suicidal thoughts

3 Reasons Why CBD Might Be Better (Than Traditional Antidepressants)

CBD is increasingly being chosen, over prescription drugs, when it comes to treating depression. Why?

1. CBD is safe

Many antidepressants can lead to dependency, addiction, and overdose. CBD presents a safe and natural alternative.

The World Health Organization (WHO), reviewed all of the available evidence on the safety of CBD and concluded their research by saying that CBD is “generally well tolerated, with a good safety profile”.

2. CBD has fewer and milder side effects

Again, when you look at CBD vs antidepressants side by side, CBD is highly favorable.

Any adverse side-effects from taking CBD are mild and infrequent and include; dry mouth, changes in appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and drowsiness/fatigue. We also have a more in-depth article about the side effects of CBD for you to look at, which includes links to research that shows CBD is non-intoxicating, non-addictive, and that it poses no overdose risk.

As well as having similar mild side effects to CBD, other (additional) common side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressants include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes

From the sounds of it, traditional antidepressants actually have the potential to leave you feeling more depressed than before you started taking them.

3. CBD is faster

Antidepressants can often take weeks to start taking effect, whereas CBD may provide much faster-acting and more sustained symptom relief.  

Does CBD Help with Depression? 

So, can CBD actually help with depression? According to those that already take CBD for depression, CBD does help reduce feelings of nervousness, sadness, mood swings, unwanted thoughts, and more.

Efficacy of CBD on mood

When it comes to the science, you may be surprised to know that there is also a mounting body of evidence to support the fact that CBD is effective in treating depression. However, most of the research thus far has been conducted in the lab and on animals, so more human clinical research is needed before anyone is allowed to say for sure.

Why Scientists Think CBD Might Work

CBD, along with other cannabinoids, are biologically active compounds, meaning they have the ability to affect our biological processes. They’re able to exert influence, partly but not exclusively, by interacting with our body’s endocannabinoid system.

Did you know? Cannabis and cannabinoids were discovered before anyone knew that we even had an endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system took its name from cannabis, which led to its discovery.

Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex chemical signaling network consisting of thousands of cannabinoid receptors (type 1 and type 2), our body’s own naturally-occurring endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids), and enzymes that are responsible for recycling or breaking down the endocannabinoids after they’ve fulfilled their role.

C1 and C2 cannabinoid receptors

It plays an essential role in many vital physiological and cognitive functions, including memory, mood, emotion, pain perception, motor function, sleep, and more. It acts like an intersection between all of our other vital bodily systems, receiving and sending messages to keep the body in a state of homeostasis or balance.

Did you know? Endocannabinoid receptors are the most abundant type of G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) found in the brain. Over half of all modern medicine is based on targeting GCPRs.

This is the reason cannabinoids are being studied for such a wide range of disorders and symptoms. However, working out how CBD, or any other cannabinoid for that matter, is able to exert influence is more difficult than you might think, as each cannabinoid we study seems to have multiple, different modes of action.

CBD’s Modes of Action for Depression

Scientists seem to be in agreement that CBD is able to activate our serotonin receptors (either directly or indirectly), as well as elevate endocannabinoid levels in our brains.

Raises Serotonin Levels

In one study, Dr. Ethan Russo and his team proved that CBD was a modest agonist of serotonin receptors, in cloned human 5-HT1A receptors in the lab.

A more recent 2018 CBD depression study also agreed that the anti-depressant effects of CBD appear to be due to its influence on serotonin levels in the brain.

Interestingly, CBDA (the raw, unheated precursor to CBD) is an even more potent agonist of this 51HT-A receptor.

Raises Endocannabinoid Levels

On top of this mode of action at the 5HT1-A receptor, CBD also enhances the natural endocannabinoid levels in our brains and bodies, which results in us feeling more happy. Anandamide plays an essential role in the regulation of appetite, but more importantly, the neural generation of motivation and pleasure. That’s why it was named after the Sanskrit word for “bliss” and is often referred to as our bliss chemical.

CBD has been shown to be a reuptake inhibitor of anandamide, preventing endocannabinoids in our brain from being naturally recycled back into our body so quickly.

CBD Depression Studies: Preclinical Research

Following a flurry of animal studies, a research review was published in 2014 that examined all of the available evidence involving CBD and depression and anxiety.

The studies involved a variety of experiments that are commonly used to monitor depressive-like behavior in animals, including forced swimming tests, elevated plus mazes, and Vogel conflict tests.

The authors concluded that CBD does exhibit both anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in animal models.

Unsurprisingly, another review in 2019 drew the same conclusions, that cannabidiol has an antidepressant effect in a variety of animal models of depression (different types of depression) and species.

They go on to say that CBD effects on depression appear to be serotonergic, cannabinoid, and neuroplastic. So, CBD may be able to treat depression by exerting influence on serotonin and cannabinoid receptors, but also by helping the brain form new neural connections, essentially helping your brain rewire itself and the way it works.

There have also been many animal studies since then that have concluded, CBD;

  • Reduced helplessness in rats with the established Wistar Kyoto depression model (2019) 
  • Exerted a pro-hedonic (pleasure-seeking) effect in rats with the chronic unpredictable mild stress (CUMS) model of depression (2020)
  • Induces fast and long-lasting antidepressant-like effects in two distinct rat models relevant for depression (2019). They went on further to say that their data supports a “promising therapeutic profile for CBD as a new fast-acting antidepressant drug.

As we said earlier, the preclinical research on using CBD for depression is compelling, but is there any human research, and if so, what does it say?

CBD Depression Studies: Human Research

The results of one study, published in 2018, used an app, called Strainprint, to track perceived symptom severity of 1,399 medical marijuana patients. Results showed that low-THC, high-CBD cannabis appeared to have the greatest effect on alleviating perceived symptoms of depression, while high-THC, high-CBD cannabis worked better on alleviating symptoms of stress.

When smoking pure cannabis flower, an average of two puffs was enough for most people to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, while closer to ten puffs was needed for stress.

The second human data I found was published just this year (2021). It was a case report that discussed an adolescent patient with multiple substance abuse, social anxiety, and severe depression. Antidepressants were unsuccessful at treating the patient’s depression, so were replaced with CBD, which proved to be a safe and well tolerated alternative.

To quote the team directly:

Upon treatment with CBD and cessation of the antidepressant medication, the patient improved regarding depressive as well as anxiety symptoms including simple phobias and symptoms of paranoia and dissociation. Furthermore, the patient quit abusing illegal drugs including THC without showing withdrawal symptoms.

Pretty remarkable, right?

CBD and Other Symptom Relief

CBD has also been shown to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, as well as increase energy, focus, and motivation, as a nootropic.

This means CBD can tackle many of the immediate physical and mental symptoms of depression, while potentially also helping patients with major depressive disorder on a more long-term basis via its neuroplastic mechanisms.

This immediate symptom relief may be why CBD has been perceived to be much faster-acting than traditional antidepressants.

How to Use CBD for Depression

There are a number of different ways in which you can introduce CBD into your daily life,  including:

  • Oils/tinctures (both flavored and unflavored)
  • Edibles (gummies, mints, and cookies)
  • Drinks (drink mixes, coffees, and teas)
  • Inhalation (pure hemp flower, vapes, and concentrates)
  • Topicals (creams, salves, bath bombs, and lotions)
  • Patches 

In all honesty, you have an overwhelming amount of product choice available and we recommend reading more about different CBD delivery methods here, including how they might benefit your symptoms and/or lifestyle. It may take a little trial and error working out what’s best for you, but most people I know usually settle on a couple of different products for different occasions or times of day.

For example, your daily CBD intake might look like this:

  • Morning – tincture under tongue
  • During the day – a gummy for ease and discretion
  • Evening – smokable flower to wind down, followed by a longer-lasting capsule before bed

Someone else’s CBD schedule may purely involve smokable flower and others may use gummies exclusively. Everyone is different and that’s why it’s good to try a few different types of CBD to see which you prefer.

CBD Dosage for Depression

Most of the research into CBD for depression has involved unusually high doses of pure CBD isolate, which would be incredibly expensive for us “average Joe’s” to be able to consider. But full and broad spectrum CBD products have the benefit of the entourage effect, in which the sum of the whole plant extract has been found to be more powerful than its parts.

What is the Entourage Effect?

The entourage effect describes the synergy of various plant compounds working together to produce more enhanced therapeutic effects. CBD has been found to work more effectively when combined with other cannabinoids and natural plant compounds.

Plus, research shows that other cannabinoids, such as CBG, CBC, CBDA, and THCA, may also have the potential to improve mood and alleviate depression. On top of this, you also have the therapeutic benefits of natural plant terpenes and flavonoids to consider.

This means that you can take a much lower dose of broad or full-spectrum CBD and experience more powerful effects, than if you were to take a CBD isolate product.

Finding Your Ideal Dose

Some people seem to be more sensitive to CBD than others and it’s generally accepted in the industry that there is no one-size-fits-all dose. This means that the only way to work out the right dosage of CBD for depression for you is to start taking it. When you first start taking CBD, you may want to keep a note of how much you’re taking and how it makes you feel.

You should also know that, at lower doses, CBD has been found to be a wake-inducing agent, increasing alertness and focus, while at higher doses it has more of a sedative effect.

I would recommend starting your dose off low (around 10-20mg per day) and increase it after a few days if you feel no change. If your daytime dose of CBD is making you feel tired, then you’re taking too much. 

If you need help sleeping at night then you should try a higher dose of CBD before bed (25-50mg+). Many companies offer special sleep products that also contain melatonin and sometimes CBN, a cannabinoid that has very relaxing properties.

We also wrote an article on how to work out your ideal CBD dosage using CBD drops held under the tongue, but some symptoms of depression may not be as obviously alleviated as (for example) superficial pain symptoms. If you want to see real and long-lasting results, you need to take CBD on a regular basis for a number of weeks.

When I started taking 30mg of full-spectrum CBD in the mornings, I noticed an improvement in my mood and motivation almost immediately. I also find that smoking CBD flower helps my focus and motivation on a more short-term basis throughout the day, with certain strains working better for me than others.

I’m not saying that this will be right for you as, not only do I take CBD for different reasons, but also my age, metabolism, and chemical make-up (among many other things) are different from yours. I ‘m just sharing for the sake of sharing

Does CBD Work for Depression?

So, will CBD work for depression? The evidence is certainly looking promising at this point, to say the least. Both the preclinical and human research that has been conducted so far shows that CBD has been effective in the treatment for depression in animals. Anecdotal evidence would also suggest that it works for many humans too.

However, more human studies on larger scales will be needed before the FDA even considers approving it for use in this treatment area. 

If you do want to try CBD, please make sure that you buy your CBD from a reliable organic hemp source to ensure that the product is safe and will be effective.

And if you’re currently taking antidepressants, don’t stop taking your current medication without proper medical advice. Be sure to speak to your doctor first about making the switch to CBD.

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