by Allison Glennie August 08, 2019 4 min read

Can CBD really help with depression? Well, let’s start with what we know. Depression is experienced by over 300 million people globally according tothe World Health Organization. In the US, 17.3 million people, or 7.1% of all adults in the nation, have experienced a major depressive episode within the last year, and it's estimated that 15% of adults will experience depression at some point during their lifetime. 

Each case is of depression unique, and each individual experiences it differently. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for depression. Experts agree that a holistic approach is the most beneficial for anyone struggling with mental health issues – a combination of psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle choices like regular exercise, and pharmaceutical treatment, supplementation, etc. 

The general consensus is that one method of treatment alone is less effective than a combination of treatments. CBD (cannabidiol) can act as another tool to support your mental health. It is highly customizable, easy to use and self-administer, and does not have the same habit-forming risks or negative side effects of traditional pharmaceuticals. While there is still a lot we don’t know about the mechanism of CBD in the body, and how it is able to produce the results it does, huge strides are happening in researching its applications and clinical trials are underway. This article is meant to break down what we know so far about its effects on depression and will be updated as new research studies are announced, and as the results of these studies are released.

There are countless user testimonials that support the hypothesis that CBD oil has the potential to combat depression because it positively impacts mood and outlook almost immediately after use. However, gathering supporting scientific evidence through clinical studies is still underway. Here’s what we know so far: 

CBD and Brain Health

CBD is a non-psychoactive natural compound that acts in the same way that popular antidepressants do, by balancing levels of the neurotransmitter Serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, anxiety, pain perception, sleep, appetite and nausea. SSRIs, or Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, are commonly prescribed to help combat depression and anxiety by rebalancing this important neurotransmitter. CBD directly binds to the 5-HT serotonin receptors in your brain, the same receptor targeted by SSRI medications. 

But Serotonin is only one part of the depression equation. When someone suffers from depression or anxiety, physical changes in the brain often accompany it. The hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and emotion. In depression sufferers, this region of the brain can atrophy, and literally shrink in size. Another key component of treating depression is encouraging neural regeneration (or neurogenesis) in this area of the brain. SSRIs allow for this regeneration to occur over time, which is why it can take weeks to see legitimate improvements in mood once you’ve started taking them. 

CBD Research, Evidence and Support for Brain and Neuronal Health

CBD and Neurotransmitters

There is evidence to support that CBD encourages this neural regeneration as well. In fact, the FDA recently approved a cannabidiol derived drug to treat epileptic seizures. According to the researchers that developed this drug, the major reason it works is that CBD protects neuronal health – specifically in the hippocampus - the same region that becomes atrophied when we experience prolonged depression. Rodent studies back this up, showing that in epileptic rats,CBD treatments actively reduced neuron atrophy and neuron death in the hippocampus. 

In another rodent study,CBD was shown to increase BDNF levels in the hippocampus, while reducing symptoms of depression. BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a protein that helps to support and protect existing neurons while it encourages the growth of new neurons and neuronal networks (or synapses). 

Research has also shown that CBD binds to the PPARy receptors in our brains. These receptors tell DNA that it needs to manufacture a range of neuron-protecting and anti-inflammatory compounds. It was recently discovered that thisreceptor helps CBD encourage neurogenesis in the hippocampus

Our Endocannabinoid System and Mental Health

Lastly, we need to take the endocannabinoid system into account. The endocannabinoid systemconsists of a network of receptors all over the body – in our brains, skin, immune cells, bones, fatty tissues, liver, heart, blood vessels, the list really does go on and on. These receptors contribute to the mediation of inflammation, nausea, pain, memory, mood, sleep, and an array of other biological functions throughout our bodies. 

A few years ago, a weight-loss drug was released that inhibited the body’s endocannabinoid system.It was discontinued almost immediately after it was found that the drug drastically increased its users’ risk of depression and suicide. While the endocannabinoid system’s relationship to mental health is still being uncovered, cases like this reiterate that it may be far more important than previously thought.

CBD’s Role in the Treatment of Depression

While all of this evidence supports the hypothesis that CBD can be used in the treatment of depression, proving it will take time and clinical studies with human participants. That being said, the countless testimonials from those whose lives have improved with the use of CBD can’t be ignored. Depression is a difficult hole to crawl out of – recovery takes time, energy, and patience. But changes to daily routine, breaking unhealthy thought patterns, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and bringing balance to neurochemistry can help to pull you back out.  

As discussed earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all cure for mental illness, but there is evidence to support thatCBD& hemp health products can help you on your journey to mental wellness. If you’re interested in pursuing abuying CBD to begin a regimen, or just curious about learning more about this incredible compound, check out ourIntro to CBD. It’s important to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before starting supplementation of any kind to avoid negative drug interactions.

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