Can CBD help depression?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is an extract of hemp or cannabis plants and is popular as a natural wellness product. Unlike THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, CBD won’t get you high but there is an increasing amount of research suggesting that it may benefit a number of health conditions.
There is also some early evidence that CBD may elicit anti-depression-like effects.
CBD and depression
Research into CBD and depression in humans is currently limited. However, some animal studies have demonstrated apparent anti-depressant effects and CBD has been shown to influence chemicals in the brain that may be involved with depression. There is also good evidence that CBD can reduce anxiety, which is often a pre-cursor of depression.
Depression is often associated with decreased levels of serotonin, a hormone known to regulate mood. Some studies suggest that CBD interacts with a serotonin receptor known as 5-HT1a, which may result in anti-depressant effects.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that inhibits the activity of neurons by binding to relevant receptors in the brain. This leads to a calming effect that is thought to help with anxiety. CBD may increase the degree to which GABA binds with those receptors, enhancing this effect.
Studies published in the British Journal of Pharmacology and Molecular Neurobiology suggest that CBD may induce anti-depressant-like effects in mice and rats comparable to those of a clinical anti-depressant, imipramine (brand name Tofranil). They conclude that this is likely the result of CBD’s interaction with serotonin receptors.
CBD and anxiety
A number of clinical studies have shown that anxiety – a risk factor for subsequent depression – can be reduced by treatment with CBD.
For example, a retrospective review of psychiatric patients given CBD for anxiety and sleep disorders found that anxiety symptoms decreased in almost 80% of subjects in the first month of usage. Meanwhile, two studies examining anxiety levels in relation to a simulated public speaking test showed that CBD had anxiety-supressing properties in stressful situations.
CBD and anti-depressants
There are a number of anti-depressant drugs already on the market, while research into CBD and depression is currently in its very early stages, with clinical evidence sorely lacking.
However, many pharmacological anti-depressants display relatively low efficacy, along with unpleasant side-effects. CBD, on the other hand, has only minor side-effects and early potential as a fast-acting anti-depressant, making it an attractive prospect for further research and as a natural remedy for some people with depression.
One animal study found that CBD had effects comparable to those of clinical anti-depressant imipramine (brand name Tofranil).
Is it safe to take CBD and anti-depressants together?
CBD can inhibit the action of enzymes that metabolise certain medications. This can potentially increase the levels of these drugs in the body and accentuate their side-effects.
Grapefruit and other related citrus fruits can have the same effect on one of these enzymes, so you should seek medical advice before taking CBD with any medication that carries a ‘grapefruit warning’. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that some anti-anxiety drugs, including buspirone (brand name Buspar), can interact with grapefruit.
Since there is currently limited clarity on how anti-depressants interact with CBD, you should not take CBD with anti-depressants, or stop taking anti-depressants, without first consulting your doctor.
CBD comes in a wide variety of products, including bottled CBD oils with built-in droppers, e-liquids for use in vaping devices, chewable gummy sweets, capsules, creams and cosmetics.
There are pros and cons for each method of taking CBD, including different ways to take CBD oil itself – the most efficient being sublingually (under the tongue).
To take CBD oil sublingually, just place the required number of drops beneath your tongue and hold them there for a minute or two before swallowing. This allows a proportion of the CBD to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the capillary-rich sublingual membrane, bypassing the digestive system where more of it would be lost.
It’s also worth being aware that quality can vary wildly between CBD brands and products. In tests carried out for the Centre for Medical Cannabis, more than a third of products had less than 50% of the CBD claimed on their packaging.
That’s why it’s important to choose a trustworthy brand of CBD oil that can demonstrate the provenance of its ingredients and has the levels of CBD content in its products confirmed by third-party lab tests.
Methods of taking CBD
- Vaping liquid – the fastest and most efficient way to take CBD; but comes with health concerns and potential side-effects such as throat irritation
- CBD oil, taken sublingually – next fastest and most efficient; allows for accurate dosing; good quality brands can demonstrate CBD content
- CBD oil, swallowed or added to food or drink – a good choice but less well absorbed than when taken sublingually
- Edible gummies – a pleasant and convenient way to consume CBD; contain a specific dose but much will be lost to digestion
- Capsules – contain a measured amount; subject to digestion
- Creams – may be beneficial in treating localised pain; CBD does not reach the rest of the body
The right dosage of CBD varies from person to person based on factors including weight, individual body chemistry and the condition they’re aiming to treat.
Although CBD is generally considered safe and elicits only minor side-effects in a small proportion of users, the best way to find your optimum dosage is to start small and gradually work your way up.
However, you can get an idea of a range of dosages that might suit you by using the CBD dosage calculator below. It suggests a low, medium and high dosage, using recommended amounts of 1-6mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of body weight. It will also tell you how many drops of oil you need to take for each dosage when using 5% or 10% solutions.
You should also be aware that the UK’s Food Standards Agency recommends as a precaution taking no more than 70mg of CBD per day.
In a 2017 report, the World Health Organization said CBD had “a good safety profile” and posed no discernible risk to public health. A recent ruling by The Court of Justice of the European Union supported this, concluding that CBD “does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health”.
Clinical trials show CBD to be well tolerated by patients when compared with many traditional pharmacological medicines, leading to continued research into the benefits of CBD in a range of areas.
As explored above, CBD may interact with some drugs in a potentially dangerous way so you should not take CBD with existing medication without consulting your doctor.
The author of this article is not a medical expert and nothing in this article constitutes medical advice or gives rise to a medical practitioner/patient relationship. You should seek specialist medical advice where required. Never disregard professional medical advice or refrain from seeking it because of something you have read here.