Is CBD Good For Depression And Anxiety?
Many people try CBD in the hopes of alleviating their anxiety or depression. But does CBD really work for anxiety? Can products like CBD oil and CBD isolate help treat depression? And, if so, what is the required CBD dosage for anxiety and depression?
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the hundreds of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. CBD is extracted from the flowers of the hemp plant. It is then put through a distillation process that ultimately produces CBD oil.
The major aspect of CBD oil is that it contains no THC—the illegal psychoactive and hallucinogenic cannabinoid.
The cannabis genus contains many varieties, including hemp and marijuana. CBD is solely extracted from hemp. Unlike marijuana, the hemp plant, by its nature, contains little to no THC.
Many people perceive CBD as a possible treatment for several conditions, especially as it has few side-effects compared to conventional medicine.
Yes, CBD’s potential beneficial effect on human brain hormones offers great promise. However, there still is a lot of research needed, alongside large scale clinical trials, to positively assert that CBD can treat ailments like anxiety and depression.
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Is CBD legal in the UK?
CBD is legal in the UK, as long as the content of THC is under 0.2%.
Doctors can prescribe CBD as a medicine but the process is still new and getting a prescription for CBD can be time-consuming.
So, CBD manufacturers and producers have discovered a technicality that allows them to sell CBD products under the label of ‘food supplement.’
CBD classified as a food supplement is now widely available on the high street and in various formats, including pills, capsules, oil, edibles, and creams. This is the reason why we see so many CBD products around us.
However, food supplements are not tested the way medicines are. They are also not regulated by a medical authority. Therefore, the content, purity, and provenance of the CBD cannot be confirmed.
Research has found that some CBD product manufacturers often make fake claims about their products, so it is important to buy your CBD carefully (read here some tips on choosing a trusted source for your CBD).
CBD and the endocannabinoid system
The reason CBD has attracted such interest from the medical community is that the human body contains an endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Our ECS, as doctors and researchers discovered in the 1990s, is responsible for restoring homeostasis—our body’s internal balance.
Specifically, our ECS is responsible for mood, motor movement, fertility, appetite, balance, inflammation, and many other vital body functions. If our ECS feels that our body is out of balance, for instance, if there is any inflammation, it alerts our brain that we need to do something to bring back balance.
Our ECS works with two endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. These endocannabinoids attach themselves to two receptors, called CB1 and CB2 and travel around the body when they need to fix something.
And here is the intriguing link between our ECS and CBD: CBD is very close in nature to our own 2-AG.
What causes depression?
While there is no straightforward answer to the exact causes of depression, it is related to a chemical imbalance. Apart from this hormonal factor, depression is also linked to genetic pre-disposition and stressful events in life like a death in the family, a divorce, or a medical problem.
Researchers often focus on defective neurotransmitters as the main cause of depression.
Neurotransmitters let brain cells communicate with each other. The messages brain cells exchange between them influence our mood. While there are many neurotransmitters in our brain, three main ones are involved in the case of depression: norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.
Serotonin is generally perceived as the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter and regulates our mood.
Dopamine is the hormone linked to the sense of reward that we seek in order to complete our tasks and finish our jobs.
Norepinephrine is the hormone that makes us ‘fight or flight’ in front of danger.
In many cases, neurotransmitter levels in depressed people are low, although we still don’t understand the reason why. Does these people’s brain produce too little serotonin or dopamine? Do the receptors not receive the messages from the neurotransmitters? Is this a cause or an effect of depression?
In any case, most conventional depression medicines increase these precious neurotransmitters in the brain to fight depression.
What causes anxiety?
In the case of anxiety, researchers are looking into the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for responses to fear.
Human’s general sense of fear is generally useful because we need to be aware of dangers around us: looking around when crossing a street, evaluating the dangers from bungee-jumping, or smelling fire in our house.
Although different brain circuits are responsible for reacting to fear and danger, the amygdala is the quickest one and it is also the brain circuit responsible for emotional processing.
When activated, the amygdala alerts the hippocampus—the part of the brain that increases our blood pressure, strengthens our muscles, fills our lungs with air and prepares us to face the danger or to run away from it.
The amygdala also stores the memories of our fears.
For example, if we have a stressful event with a dog, the amygdala remembers it and every time we see a dog, it alerts the hippocampus to activate the body and escape the perceived danger.
In cases of ‘fight or flight,’ the neurotransmitter norepinephrine is activated and prepares the body to either fight the danger or run away from it.
An overactive amygdala
Anxiety occurs when an overactive amygdala finds dangers everywhere.
Ideally, after the danger has passed, our alert system returns to normal. However, people with anxiety constantly trigger their amygdala into thinking there is imminent danger.
Research has found that this excessive triggering of the hippocampus to act upon the perceived dangers of the amygdala leads to its progressive destruction or malfunction due to extreme usage. A malfunctioning hippocampus has been linked to early dementia.
These are not the only brain parts involved with anxiety.
Along with norepinephrine, serotonin is also linked with anxiety because it is the hormone that coordinates happiness and mood, hence closely associated with anxiety.
Research on anxiety patients has shown that parts of their frontal lobe meant to dampen the signals of fear to the hippocampus fail to do so. Other parts of the frontal lobe augment the fearful messages sent from the amygdala, exaggerating them and drowning out the dampening signals.
Both anxiety and depression, although different in how they are expressed, share certain hormonal imbalances in the case of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.
How does CBD work in our brain?
There is still a lot we do not understand about how CBD works in our body, let alone our brain.
At first, researchers thought that CBD attaches itself to receptors CB1 and CB2 and piggybacks on them in order to reach the targeted body parts. After more extensive research, it looks like this is not the case. Instead, CBD instructs our body to produce more of its own endocannabinoids and tells it how to use them better.
CBD and serotonin
Research has shown that CBD travels through other receptors across the body. Researchers have tried to establish whether CBD can return our hormones to balance.
For instance, CBD binds to receptor 1A, which is a serotonin receptor. As has been mentioned, serotonin is responsible for mood, reaction to stress and social behaviour.
This particular receptor is of interest to the medical community because if CBD attaches to it, it could rebalance the serotonin levels of people with anxiety or depression.
CBD and anandamide
Another intriguing finding is that CBD seems to stop anandamide from breaking up in our body.
The two natural cannabinoids discussed earlier, anandamide and 2-AG, are responsible for various tasks in our body.
Anandamide, in particular, is found in the brain and is considered the cannabinoid of bliss, joy, and happiness.
Anandamide seems to be the endocannabinoid that enhances our mood and appears closely connected with mood fluctuation and pain management, among other things.
Once these cannabinoids have finished their work, they are broken down by enzymes and eventually discarded.
CBD slows down the breaking up of anandamide in the body. If anandamide stays longer active in the body, its effect is more powerful. This may help people suffering from depression.
Is there any clinical evidence to support these theories?
There is still no medical proof based on clinical evidence that CBD is a valid treatment for depression or anxiety.
However, several clinical trials are exploring CBD and its effect on the brain. Many of these show promising results.
A 2015 study on humans and mice showed that anandamide could be a stimulant for mood enhancement and decrease of fear.
Another study in 2019 analysed the role of cannabidiol in anxiety and depression. Results showed that CBD was a promising tool for reducing anxiety and depression with fewer side effects than conventional medication.
A 2015 study researched how cannabidiol can treat anxiety disorders; it found that preclinical evidence ‘conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors’ with minimal narcotic features and an excellent safety profile.
A further study in 2018 reviewed the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids and found that they offer a powerful therapeutic potential due to their interaction with our endocannabinoid system.
A 2014 study about the anxiety and depression-fighting qualities of cannabidiol found that when CBD is administered in high concentrations it stimulates a serotonin receptor called 5-HT1A and ultimately alleviates anxiety.
In 2016, a study researched if and how CBD slows down the enzymes breaking down anandamide. It found that CBD does indeed stop anandamide from breaking down and gave a tentative hypothesis as to why CBD works in cases of epilepsy, namely by increasing the levels of anandamide in the brain.
Finally, a 2018 study analysed the advances in clinical research regarding CBD and depression; it found that the ‘experimental and clinical use of CBD showed anxiolytic, antiepileptic, and antipsychotic properties, among other effects.’
You can find more clinical studies on CBD here.
Does that mean I should take CBD for my depression or anxiety?
Not so fast! Research is still ongoing about the way CBD could help in alleviating or treating depression or anxiety.
First, do not believe the incredible and extravagant claims made by some CBD fans or CBD manufacturers about CBD.
CBD is a promising treatment for various conditions but there are neither definitive results nor any conclusive scientific trials. Depression and anxiety are two conditions involving many brain aspects and functions and their treatment is not straightforward.
That is why the NHS has not approved yet any CBD medicine for depression or anxiety.
In case you want to try CBD for your depression or anxiety, the first step is to discuss it thoroughly with your doctor. CBD interacts with various medications you might already be taking, including antidepressants. In some cases, it makes conventional medicine more potent in the body.
There is also no approved CBD dosage.
Dosage depends on the condition, age, weight and metabolism of the person among other things. The positive aspect is that there are no known overdoses of CBD. The general rule is to “start low-go slow”: start with a low dosage and increase it gradually. You can find out more in our post, How To Choose The Right CBD Dosage For You.