Learn about new scientific studies exploring the effects of CBD on depression from famed cannabis researcher, Raphael Mechoulam. Is CBD effective against symptoms associated with depression?
Mental health seems to be a topic at the forefront of a national discussion. Polls and studies continue to indicate that people in the U.S. are stressed, depressed, and largely unhappy with life, but is our addiction to toxic pharmaceutical helping?
There are many factors that can contribute to depression or feeling depressed. Relationships, work, and money are usually at the top of the list, but things like chronic pain, illness, and physical or emotional trauma can also influence mental health and depression.
Can CBD help with symptoms of depression or mental illness?
High Risks and Little Benefits in Traditional Depression Treatments
Largely, depression patients have been treated with drugs like benzodiazepines, opioids, and SSRIs. Often these drugs are prescribed in a pharma-cocktail of sorts and cause toxic and addictive side effects that include risks like overdose and suicidal ideation.
What’s worse is that U.S. children have been doped up on these types of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals at very alarming rates. Even when clinical data suggests that, in large part, many anti-depression drugs aren’t effective, especially in children in whom they can cause suicidal behavior, they are still being pushed as safe and effective by many outlets.
One recent meta-analysis from Denmark on the safety and efficacy of new generation anti-depressants concludes that the risk of suicide and aggression in adolescents is doubled from these types of meds.
So, if the meds aren’t working for most and could actually be making symptoms of depression worse, what can we do? Where is the magic happy pill to take away the sadness? Where is the drug that will cure our existential woes?
At the end of this article, I’ll give you three free personal tips that I use to help maintain balanced biochemistry, making it easier to manage symptoms of depression. Anyone can do them! Keep reading to learn more about CBD and depression.
1 in 6 U.S. Adults on Psychiatric Drugs
Depression is a mental health issue, and if you know me personally, then you know that it’s not something I shy away from talking about.
When the studies came out recently showing that 1 in 6 US adults takes or has taken a psychiatric medication in the past year, it was like the taboo dam burst.
People are beginning to talk more openly about their mental health and how to stay on top of it. People are also discussing healthier and more natural ways to improve mental health and symptoms of depression.
The increased dialogue is great because it decreases the stigma that surrounds mental illness, allowing us to improve treatments and helping those afflicted feel less alienated.
Everyone goes through bouts with depression, but I want to focus in on clinical depression for this article. You know, when the body’s biochemistry is out of whack causing the mind and physical health to begin to falter.
Feeling no will to continue living and not being able to enjoy experiences that are normally pleasurable are hallmark symptoms of clinical depression.
It can feel like a big dark cloud is covering you and there is nothing you could ever do to feel better. I know, I’ve been there, and chances are you have too.
Exercising regularly as well as having a healthy diet and lifestyle should be the initial go to factors to address symptoms of depression first, but in some severe cases, chemical intervention is needed to help lift us out of sad fogginess and balance our brain chemistry.
Humans have consumed plant compounds since the dawn of time for exactly that reason – to help the body naturally balance its innate mechanisms of health and wellness.
Now, many people are looking to CBD as one of those potential substances that can help manage symptoms of depression.
CBD and Depression: Clinical Studies
However, I’m sure you didn’t come to this article to listen to me pandering about plant medicines and human history.
Do you really want to know if CBD can help with depression, or is it just another scam to separate consumers from their cash?
This is a question I’ve researched extensively. The problem is that we don’t have much large scale, well-organized clinical research on the effects of CBD on symptoms of depression in humans available.
What we have is a lot of experiments testing CBD on different types of animals that have been genetically bred to represent various models of varying chronic diseases.
In the following studies, cases of a “model of depression” are derived from different species of rats bred for these types of experiments.
We’ve done all kinds of experiments on our little mice martyrs to test the effects of CBD. Research from around the world has largely been indicative in agreement that, yes; CBD does indeed exert an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety like effect on the mice in many different experimental models of depression.
They’ve done everything you can imagine to mice to see if CBD improves the induced depression. Findings from the animal studies conducted have revealed several molecular pathways via which CBD exerts its beneficial effect on mental health.
CBD blocks FAAH production, Increasing Endocannabinoid Tone
The first way that CBD potentially provides therapeutic benefits in a number of various conditions including depression is by blocking FAAH production, which increases anandamide levels in the body. Keep reading to learn more.
CBD has been shown to improve endocannabinoid tonus, which refers to the levels of the naturally formed compounds in the bloodstream, as well as many aspects of their functions.
Endocannabinoids are compounds produced within the body by the endocannabinoid system to help balance most of the homeostatic mechanisms.
Specifically, CBD improves the tone and function of a compound called anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule”.
Anandamide is intimately tied to nearly every function of health and wellness you can imagine, but is especially relevant when it comes to feeling happy, sad, or somewhere in between.
Studies have found that CBD in the brain can block the production of FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase). Why does that matter? Well, what does FAAH do?
FAAH is a metabolic compound that the body employs to utilize or uptake anandamide from the bloodstream.
In short, taking CBD allows for anandamide to build up in the bloodstream by blocking the metabolite FAAH, which is how researchers think the compound exerts its anti-depressant effects in their experiments.
CBD’s ability to block FAAH production and increase anandamide in the bloodstream is just one pathway that researchers think CBD is helping to improve symptoms of depression.
However, they’re still not entirely conclusive on exactly all the different ways and biological mechanisms through which CBD is benefiting mental health patients.
CBD, Serotonin, and Potential Pathways
Studies also show that CBD has an affinity to bind with a specialized neuro-receptor in the brain, called the “5-HT1A receptor”, also known as the “serotonin receptor”. This receptor is also the primary target of most new generation anti-depressant pharmaceuticals.
You’ve likely heard of serotonin. Similar to anandamide, serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is the primary chemical responsible for inducing sensations of euphoria, joy, wellbeing, and happiness.
If the body has a problem with producing or utilizing serotonin, it’s likely you’ll have difficulty cultivating positive or joyful emotions about even the most exciting events in life.
Research shows that CBD activates this receptor’s activity, which is thought to be somewhat of an “emotional signaling hub”. Many scientists think that using CBD to target the 5-HT1A receptor could be another way that CBD is improving symptoms of depression.
Another way CBD has been shown to improve symptoms of depression is through binding with other receptors. CBD affects the activity of other receptors that are involved in balancing brain chemistry and emotions including, CB1 (cannabinoid receptor 1), GPR55 (g-protein coupled receptor), and vanilloid-1 receptors.
To summarize this in basic terms – most researchers agree that CBD is effective at providing benefits in symptoms of depression, but we’re not entirely sure about the all the specific mechanisms by which it does so.
In my opinion, CBD is likely working via a combination of most of these pathways to exert its beneficial properties. However, I’ll leave it to the scientists to continue exploring the question.
These same beneficial mechanisms of CBD are being explored in the potential treatment of other mental health conditions including
Anxiety disorders such as OCD and PTSD, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia.
Scientists Who Discovered THC Releases New CBD Depression Studies
To validate previous findings, two new studies have further explored CBD’s antidepressant abilities. The researchers hope to elucidate and clarify CBD’s mood-improving effects on people with depression.
World-renowned cannabinoid researcher, Raphael Mechoulam, who is the first scientist that isolated and discovered THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, led the new studies on CBD and depression.
They experimented on two different animal models of depression, specifically in Wistar Kyoto and Flinders Sensitive Line rats. Essentially, these rats were genetically bred to be depressed, which is why they are used to test the anti-depressive effects of CBD.
In one test, they conducted what’s known as a Saccharin Preference Test. In depression, there is a lack of ability to experience pleasure or joy. Saccharin is a substance 300-500 times sweet than sucrose or sugar.
Since the rats are genetically predisposed to feel depressed, it’s hypothesized that they have an inability to derive pleasure from typically pleasurable experiences, such as enjoying an ultra sweet substance such as saccharin.
Using a variety of indicators, the researchers concluded that giving CBD to these two types of rats improved their ability to enjoy the saccharin.
Basically, the depressed rats kept going back to the sweet substance after being administered CBD, while rats that didn’t receive CBD showed no improvement in pleasure-seeking behaviors.
In another experiment, called a forced-swim test or Porsolt Test, these same two types of rats were placed into inescapable cylinders of water. I know it’s basically torture in the name of science. Perhaps one day we can stop experimenting on innocent rodents and actually conduct drug trials meant for humans on humans.
The idea is that the worse the depression is the less time the rats will spend trying to escape the cylinder, inevitably giving up and going into a catatonic state of floating to survive.
However, when administered CBD, both types of rats showed prolonged efforts to escape the cylinder, even when they could never escape.
Scientifically, these two tests indicate that CBD can improve the main symptoms of depression, which are defined as helplessness and anhedonia, or lack of ability to derive enjoyment from normally enjoyable experiences.
Shortly summarizing this – the new depression study results indicate that CBD may be able to improve the ability to feel positive emotions such as pleasure and joy, and also that it could improve the will to live. Hypothetically.
I don’t know about you, but if CBD can bring about the ability to experience joyful emotions for those who cannot, or the desire to stay alive for those who’d rather die, we should definitely be exploring it more.
There are a lot of factors that influence how we feel. If the right biochemistry is not happening, it can be very difficult to “see the light”. Don’t be shy to talk about depression with those around you.
According to all the clinical research available so far, CBD appears to have a powerful therapeutic benefit on symptoms of depression.
In the end, CBD could help improve how you feel about life or at least offer you a new outlook on it.
However, mental health is an ongoing life-long balance with natural ups and downs.
Three Bonus Tips on Naturally Managing Depression
Here are a few tips that have helped me to manage my own symptoms of depression and mental distress in times of distress.
First, breathe deep! The body and brain need oxygen and most of us aren’t getting enough of it.
Second, practice mindfulness and meditation. Of course, there are many ways to meditate and be mindful. Explore different practices that can help you focus and concentrate your mind in a manner that doesn’t involve thinking, but rather being.
Easily demonstrated by the placebo effect phenomenon, the mind holds the most powerful and mysterious influence over our physiology and health.
Third, exercise regularly. Really break a sweat and activate large muscle groups. You can do this by sprinting, lifting weights, cross fit, yoga, and other practices.
As a bonus tip – once you can feel energy moving again in your body from doing these three steps, explore what it feels like to actively cultivate that energy and use it to reprogram your mind for positivity and joy.
Healing isn’t linear, which means that you might find yourself taking big steps forward and small steps back, or stepping in a new direction. Just remember that the body knows how to heal itself if you give it what it needs and let it do its thing.
Consider these three suggestions as a preventative medicine toolkit. None of these methods actually involved diving into your problems or analyzing your life with a psychotherapist and the mind.
Rather, they involve bioenergetic mechanisms that enhance your physiological functioning. This helps to balance the biochemistry in the brain and body, and when the biochemistry is in balance it becomes a lot easier to feel good and “see the light”.
That being said, CBD might be a helpful way to get you started on the path out of depression and back into a joyful experience and a positive mindset. Or, when times get tough and you find it difficult to activate self-healing, CBD could help give you the boost you need to trigger those innate biological mechanisms.
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