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People often say that CBD is non-psychoactive. If we’re being honest, this isn’t entirely true. CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning that it doesn’t cause a euphoric “high” it can still influence your cognition and mood in surprisingly powerful ways. In animal studies, CBD is proving to be a natural antidepressant.
Research on CBD in human patients is lacking but if recent studies are any indication, it’s safe to say that the cannabis compound is a powerful antidepressant for mice.
In 2016, Spanish researchers found that CBD triggered “rapid and sustained” antidepressant-like effects in rodent models. Amazingly, the scientists found that the cannabinoid produced these effects thanks to engagement with the serotonin receptor.
Cell receptors are like little locks that sit on the surface of cells, awaiting chemical messengers to engage them. In this case, CBD interacted with cell receptors that are normally reserved for serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is targeted by some of the most common antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft.
Another paper published in August of 2018 discovered that low doses of CBD paired with low doses of generic Prozac successfully improved depression-related behavior in mice under stress. This research also confirmed that CBD seemed to produce an antidepressant effect by engagement with serotonin. While the cannabis compound may work synergistically with some antidepressants, earlier rodent research suggested that CBD worked just as well as a common antidepressant drug. In 2010, researchers found that the effects of CBD were comparable to the antidepressant imipramine, which is sold under the brand name Tofranil.
But, wait! There’s more. Rats that have been genetically bred to demonstrate depression-related symptoms also responded well to CBD treatment, providing the first suggestions that the cannabis compound may play a role in more than just stress-related depression.
While clinical trials of CBD for depression in humans are currently non-existent, there is some evidence suggesting that some patients find that cannabis medicines improve their symptoms of depression. A 2017 survey of Canadian medical cannabis patients discovered that 63 percent of patients reported preferring cannabis over prescription medications. Of those patients, 12 percent reported preferring the herb over antidepressants.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to how CBD works for depression. Scientists are currently investigating the antidepressant effects of CBD and other cannabis compounds. Considering the many factors that can trigger depression such as stress, genetic predisposition, nutrition, lifestyle, loneliness, environment, past trauma, among other things, there are still many unknowns regardless of the early evidence suggesting that CBD does produce an antidepressant effect.
While CBD is a tool that can improve mood and cause feelings of ease, calm, and contentment, it is doubtful that the cannabis compound is going to “cure” or get to the root cause of the problem. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t a helpful tool for moving in the right direction. Like any other medicine or therapy, CBD likely works best in combination with other significant changes, like talk therapy, a change in job, a nutritious diet, exercise, quality time with friends or family, and practicing stress-management techniques.
In terms of managing symptoms of depression, early research suggests that the compound:
CBD oil and other products may not provide these benefits to all patients who experiment with the supplement.
Science aside, there are some benefits of CBD that cannot be quantified by data or determined by means of rodent experiments. All cannabis products, including CBD, affect everyone differently. How you respond, and ultimately, what you take away from the herb is ultimately up to you. Thanks to the compound’s rapid-acting effects, consumers may find that it offers a somewhat unique experience.
If you’re having a really lousy day and you find yourself stuck in a pattern of negative thinking, some people may find that consuming a little CBD produces a dramatic shift in mentality. Conventional antidepressants can take between eight and 12 weeks to take effect, perhaps causing more of a gradual change over time.
In contrast to conventional medication, CBD and other cannabis products work sort of like a jolt. The active effects kick in within minutes, causing a rapid change in both thought and emotion. If you’ve been sitting in a certain frame of mind all day, the sudden change of spirits can be quite enlightening. Once you are out of a certain mood, it can be easier to tell that you have been feeling depressed and stuck in a negative or harmful thinking pattern.
To be clear, this writing is not an advocacy for throwing away your prescription antidepressants. If you’re struggling with clinical or severe depression, only you and a trusted medical professional can decide whether or not an antidepressant medication is right for you. However, pointing out the differences between CBD and prescription antidepressants is useful for understanding the effect that the cannabis compound produces. Though there is no data to back this claim, perhaps one reason why so many consumers favor CBD and cannabis medicines is due to their ability to cause sudden changes in perspective.
Since CBD is non-intoxicating, many consumers prefer it for daytime consumption. CBD also does not interfere with cognitive performance, meaning that it is easy to get things done and concentrate after partaking.
To really understand the differences between the two, however, you’ll need to dive into a little science. The non-intoxicating compound works differently than it’s mind-altering relative. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes the classic cannabis high, produces an intoxicating effect by replacing neurotransmitter compounds produced naturally in the body; CBD does not.
Instead, CBD blocks the breakdown of other neurotransmitters that promote feelings of peace and happiness. So, the cannabis molecule not only engages serotonin receptors in a manner similar to antidepressant drugs, but it also enhances mood by preventing the degradation of a variety of feel-good molecules in the brain and body.
The differences between CBD and THC are important. While both molecules can improve mood, the latter is more likely to produce noticeable and unwanted side effects. At least, based on what limited but emerging science has to say.
Many consumers report that intoxicating cannabis improves their mood and eases symptoms of depression. To some extent, there is early science to support these claims. Research in laboratory animals has shown that low doses of cannabis reduce depression-related behaviors. In high doses, however, the psychoactive herb actually worsened signs of depression. When consumed chronically, research suggests that intoxicating cannabis may even worsen depression over time.
There’s a reason for this.
Numerous studies on multiple pathologies—from pain to anxiety to stress—have found that cannabinoids like THC produce biphasic effects. Simply stated, there are two phases to the THC high. When the dosage is just right, early evidence suggests that the mind-bending molecule may be helpful. Yet, after a certain dosage threshold is crossed, the second phase kicks in and symptoms like pain and depression may start to return.
This may be partly due to the way in which THC engages cell receptors in the brain. The psychoactive hijacks the landing sites for neurotransmitters that cells in the brain produce naturally. Neurotransmitters are molecules that allow nerve cells to communicate with one another. THC specifically takes over the landing sites for neurotransmitters that cause feelings of bliss, pleasure, hunger, and euphoria.
If the brain is saturated with too much THC, however, cells shut down their receptor sites. While these receptor sites return eventually, a reduction in receptor sites means that the nervous system is less responsive to the molecules that communicate feelings of bliss and pleasure. As a result, excess THC might temporarily cause you to feel more apathetic, blank, or dull. Just the right amount of cannabis? Enhanced bliss, openness, and relaxation. Too much for too long? Stagnation.
This dullness is especially true as the euphoric portion of the THC high wears off, sort of like a cannabis hangover. Some research also suggests that chronic cannabis consumption may cause feelings of depersonalization, which is a word that describes the sensation of being detached from yourself. If you’ve been consuming a lot of THC, the symptoms of dullness and apathy are good indicators that it’s time for a tolerance break.
Though it is perhaps due to a lack of research, these same biphasic properties have not been demonstrated with CBD. The non-intoxicating cannabinoid can certainly produce biphasic effects—alerting in low doses, sedative in high doses—no studies have yet reported biphasic results of CBD in terms of depression or mood. Long-term research and human studies are needed to truly put CBD for depression to the test. Yet, based on the evidence at the time of writing, it seems like CBD holds potential for improving mood in the short term, at least.
Both CBD and THC exhibit at least some antidepressant properties. Here’s the catch, though: finding the right dose is hard. Doses vary depending on how well someone can tolerate cannabis medicines, CBD included. Unlike other medicines and supplements, decades of legal barriers to scientific research means that researchers and medical professionals have little information as to which doses are most effective for specific ailments.
To make matters worse, apart from research on epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, there are hardly any meaningful human trials on cannabis therapies. When a consumer decides to try cannabis or CBD to relieve a certain symptom, they are taking on the role of citizen scientist considering everything with the herb is an experiment at this point. It’s important to keep in mind that humans have used the herb as a medicine, spiritual guide, food, and fiber for the last 10,000 years of human history.
Still, for those interested in putting CBD to the test, there are a few ways to figure out how much you should be taking:
When trying any new CBD product, start with the lowest recommended dose indicated on the packaging. From there, you can slowly work up as needed over time. As a general rule, only take as little as you need to produce an effect. Keep in mind that inhaled, sublingual, and liquid CBD products will likely take effect much faster than infused foods and capsules.
If you are struggling with severe depression or are experiencing thoughts of suicide or feel that life is not worth living, seek the help of a professional. Should you choose to try CBD, a medical professional will be able to monitor your progress and provide guidance and support along the way.
Due to the lack of scientific data on CBD for depression, it is important to remain mindful when using products. To help you figure out whether the supplement is working for you and which dosage you should take, try keeping a journal. Here are some questions to consider when filling it out:
Journaling daily is a good idea when you first begin to take CBD. If you’re choosing to take CBD regularly, it may be possible to switch to weekly journaling after a couple of weeks of using the supplement. If you are willing, this journal can then be shared with your councilors or doctors to track your progress.
While research on the topic is limited, it is possible that CBD may lose efficacy over time. Tracking your changes and regularly checking in can help you determine whether or not this is the case for you as a unique individual.
Different consumption methods determine how quickly CBD will take effect. Taking a capsule filled with CBD oil, for example, can take upwards of an hour to kick in. Vaporizing a high-CBD flower or strain, on the other hand, can produce active effects within minutes after consumption. Both of these options may provide temporary relief from the symptoms of depression.
In terms of long-term benefit, that question is more difficult to address. Like all cannabis products, CBD can produce profound shifts of mood and emotion. Unfortunately, unless you take CBD every day, these changes are temporary. If you choose to take CBD on a daily basis via an edible or capsule, excess CBD will be stored in your tissue for release at later times. Whether or not this build-up of CBD can provide long-term relief from depression is unclear. No research has been conducted on the long-term efficacy of CBD for depression.
Depression that is not properly treated or managed can always worsen. If you begin taking CBD and you notice that your depression worsens, consult a medical or mental health professional right away. At the time of writing, there is no research that suggests that CBD may worsen depression over time. The best person to tell you whether or not CBD worsens your depression is you.
Until research says otherwise, CBD appears to be most useful for its fast-acting effects. So, it is reasonable to assume that products with fast activation times may be useful for those seeking immediate relief from symptoms of depression.
Here are some of the top CBD products to consider:
Vape pens and low-temperature vaporizers may be particularly helpful for those seeking rapid relief from immediate symptoms of depression. While vaping a little CBD oil may not be strong enough to pull someone out of a severe episode, inhaling CBD might help to handle a stressful situation or days when you are seeking relief. The effects of vaporized CBD should kick in within minutes after consumption. As a drawback, inhaled CBD also wears off more quickly than other products.
Next to vaporizers in terms of activation time are sublingual tinctures, oils, and sprays. You place a sublingual product under the tongue. Some of the CBD infused into a sublingual product will be absorbed in the mouth. The rest of it will be swallowed, which may contribute to a longer-duration effect. Sublingual cannabis products can kick in within 30 minutes of application.
CBD-infused drinks and liquids are the fastest-acting edibles. With an infused beverage, the digestive system spends less time breaking down food particles before they enter the small intestine for absorption. Oral CBD produces longer-lasting effects than other consumption methods, which may make an infused drink an attractive option for those seeking relatively fast activation and effects that last several hours.
Capsules and edibles take the longest to kick in. In fact, depending on what you have eaten and your individual metabolic rate, it may take as long as two hours to feel the full effect of CBD. Once they kick in, however, the effects can last as long as six hours. A capsule that is filled with a liquid CBD oil is likely to take effect a little faster and fade quicker than an infused food. The more often you supplement with CBD capsules and infused foods, the more likely it is that CBD begins to build up in your system and produce a more long-term effect as a result.
Photo by Rex Pickar via Unsplash
In general, CBD is considered to be well-tolerated and produces a minimum number of side effects. In higher dosages, however, purified CBD is associated with some adverse reactions. In drug trials of Epidiolex, a CBD medicine that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drugmakers report common side effects including:
There are a few things to note about these side effects, however. For one, Epidiolex is a treatment given to children with rare and severe forms of intractable epilepsy, not depression. Secondly, these side effects were more present when very high doses of CBD were taken. In the trial, side effects were most common in patients receiving 20 milligrams of CBD per kilogram of body weight. For the average 177-pound man (80.3 kilograms), that’s over 1600 milligrams of CBD in a single day!
In contrast, the average CBD supplement falls between five and 35 milligrams of CBD per serving. Further, in recreational cannabis states, laws setting limits on the potency of infused foods state that a single serving of active cannabinoid is between five and 10 milligrams. For medical cannabis patients, some states have capped that number at 50 milligrams per serving. While these laws are in place to limit potential side effects associated with psychoactive THC, no specific standards exist for CBD alone. Without further information, it is generally assumed that similar dosage guidelines be followed with CBD products.
Finally, even though the drug Epidiolex is made from purified CBD, the vast majority of people do not have access to this drug. Instead, buying CBD oils, capsules, tinctures, infusions, and isolates are far more common. The side effects of using these products may be different, but there is no way to accurately measure or regulate the variants.
In order to determine whether or not CBD works for you, it is recommended to make note of any symptoms you experience while taking the supplement. It is also of vital importance to pay attention to whether or not you experience a worsening of depression while trying CBD. While the vast majority of people experience depression at some point in their lives, it would be irresponsible to overlook the potential seriousness of the ailment. If you find yourself overwhelmed and sinking into darkness or apathy, seek professional help.
Those being treated for clinical depression may need to use caution when adding CBD into their medication routine. CBD can block the actions of certain enzymes in the liver that aid in detoxifying antidepressant drugs out of the human body. By blocking the detoxification of these drugs, it is possible that CBD may contribute to a toxic buildup of pharmaceuticals. Consumers experimenting with high doses of CBD should be especially cautious and inform their doctors of their CBD supplementation.
It is possible that by adding CBD to a traditional treatment plan, consumers may be able to lower their dosage of antidepressant medications. It is of vital importance, however, that patients hoping to decrease their use of antidepressants work with a trusted medical professional. Suddenly stopping or reducing the dosage of an antidepressant can contribute to a period of worsened depression, suicidal ideation, and other withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms may present several days after discontinuing or reducing the dosage of an antidepressant, taking the half-life of common antidepressant drugs into account. Since it is dangerous to play around with pharmaceuticals, working closely with a doctor is necessary.