New neuroimaging studies are revealing how these structural and functional abnormalities affect the brains of people with major depressive disorder (MDD).
CBD for Depression: Does It Really Help you Heal?
Feeling gloomy because of losing a job, a tragedy in the family, a breakup or any number of reasons is a normal human emotion. But if you’re trapped by depression, you might be miserable because it’s Thursday.
Depression is a terrible condition that can ruin your life, and it’s not your fault, yet most depression sufferers feel that their illness is because of their situation and often feel deeply ashamed.
In fact, the likelihood that you’re reading this for yourself is low. Most likely, friends and family will be the ones researching depression, trying to convince you it’s time to get help.
Recovering from depression is a complex task that includes therapy, medication, and healthy living habits. A rising amount of people are using CBD as a natural self-care tool to tackle their condition.
If you’re considering or already using CBD, this article will help you get a better grasp about depression, and the science behind the potential benefits of this compound to overcome the monster that sucks your life.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What Is Depression?
The first thing you need to know is that depression is not a character flaw. Depression is, in fact, a serious mental illness. An illness that traps you in a constant, pervasive, and unshakable sadness or apathetic boredom affecting the way you think, feel, and handle life.
Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe. When it becomes chronic, it’s considered a major depression disorder (MDD).
In this fast-forward world, depression has reached epidemic proportions. It’s estimated that 17.3 million adults in the United States have experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lives. That’s more than the entire population of New York, L.A., Chicago, and Houston…combined!
Being diagnosed with depression can be particularly hard to deal with, but it’s also the starting point of a process to feel better.
Read about these symptoms to see if it’s time for you to look for a mental health professional.
Signs of Depression
Even though the signs of depression are similar between sufferers, dealing with this illness is highly individual, and only a professional can give you an accurate diagnosis.
This article is for informational purposes only, so if you, or someone you know, are experiencing more than three of the symptoms listed below for longer than two weeks, it’s about time to seek support and get a proper diagnose.
What Causes Depression?
Depression is a complicated and not well-understood illness, because our understanding of how the brain deals with life experiences and how depression occurs needs more research.
Everyone’s path to depression is different, and it’s usually a combination of multiple factors that result in developing this condition.
It’s worth noting that you can’t always identify the roots of your depression, and changing your circumstances probably won’t fix it. One day may feel like the source of your condition is from one place, and the next day, the source feels to be completely different.
The several factors that are linked to depression could be:
Every cell of your body—including your neurons—is controlled by genes. Scientists have actually found genetic markers for depression. If depression runs in your family, you’re more vulnerable to low moods and the risk of developing this illness increases.
Whether it’s chronic or acute—stress may lead to depression. Finding the strength to process and recover from stressful situations can wear you down. And sometimes, after events like war or family tragedies, you’re never the same. The overwhelm eventually morphs into depression.
As if it wasn’t enough, the buildup of stress hormones like cortisol in the brain can have long-term effects. Studies in which mice are stressed show that long-term or repeated stress actually changes the physiology of the brain.
A combination of life events like losing your job, a breakup, or the passing of a loved one can trigger depression, especially if you have had previous bad experiences.
Suffering from a debilitating disease can disrupt all aspects of your life; whether it’s a chronic or life-threatening illness, the emotional distress, and worry can lead to depression.
STIMULANTS & WITHDRAWAL
Illegal drugs, legal highs, alcohol, nicotine and even caffeine may all lead to depression. Particularly when used in high quantities, although the effects are different from one person to another.
Stimulants withdrawal can elicit symptoms that concur with those caused by depression.
Your environment may play a role too. This is true for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) sufferers, in which people with vitamin D deficiency become depressed in the colder months because of reduced sunlight.
This can affect how your brain changes neurotransmitter production when days are shorter.
This is controversial. It has long been believed that depression is caused by an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry of serotonin, noradrenalin, and/or GABA neurotransmitters. But recent research shows that depression doesn’t stem from simply having the incorrect cocktail of these chemicals in your brain.
Yes, these neurotransmitters play a role in the big picture of depression, but they’re not the only ones. The chemical events involved in mood and how you experience life are too intricate.
This process involves such a massive biochemical and bioelectrical series of reactions, that researchers are years away to fully decipher the what, how and why depression originates.
What Can You Do to Treat Depression?
Since your depression is a complex, multifactorial interplay, you know that the solution isn’t to just pull yourself together and snap out of it. Yet people are often reluctant to seek treatment as if depression were some kind of personal failing.
Recovering from depression is different for everyone, and with so many diverse things leading to it—one single solution is sometimes not enough.
Many people usually rely on self-care, thinking they can manage their mental health on their own. Meditation, exercise, better sleep patterns, and a healthy diet can reduce depression. But we need professional help sometimes, so don’t feel ashamed to seek it out.
Psychotherapy, more specifically talk therapy, should be your first point of call to treat your symptoms. Talk therapy must be implemented well and applied thoughtfully to be effective.
Most times, patients have successful outcomes with psychotherapy without the use of drugs. Unfortunately, success isn’t perfect. And when this option falls short, psychiatrists dole out medication like antidepressants.
Antidepressants can be classified into five main types, but the most commonly prescribed are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), because they’re effective and have fewer side effects than the other types of antidepressants.
It doesn’t mean that these drugs come without risk.
Pros & Cons of Medication
Basically, SSRIs work under the premise that depression happens when your brain doesn’t allow you the right amount of serotonin. Thus, SSRIs raise serotonin levels by blocking reuptake receptors to make you feel better.
The imbalance causing your depression is corrected using your body’s own chemicals, so you won’t feel like you’re living in “Zombieland.”
The problem is the brain re-regulates over time, producing less serotonin, so depression symptoms come back, and you may need to increase your dose. Higher doses lead to side effects such as dizziness, fuzzy thinking, weight gain, and low libido. Argh!
You won’t see benefits in the first weeks. Antidepressants aren’t a take-as-needed drug—they must be taken regularly to begin relieving your symptoms. Another drawback is that SSRIs don’t work for everyone. When they do work, they can give you your life back.
However, treatment-resistant depression (TRD) is a reality for 45% of depression patients. This term refers to people who don’t respond to antidepressant medication in a certain period.
And that’s not all: approximately 80% of patients go cold turkey within a month of using this medication because the side effects are so unbearable.
If SSRIs aren’t working for you and you decide to go off them, you must do it gradually and under a doctor’s supervision. It’s not a good idea to forgo your medication all together. You will be exposed to adverse withdrawal symptoms if you quit cold turkey.
SOME OF THE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS YOU MAY EXPERIENCE ARE:
The Depressed Brain
Even though cognitive science, or the science of the brain, is in its infancy, neuroscientists are now armed with fancy brain scans that can map the brain structures that are involved in depression:
- The hippocampus and the amygdala, which help the brain identify and remember stressful threads and
- The prefrontal cortex, which determines how to respond.
Stress and depression share many of the same brain pathways. And there’s evidence that stress—and the depression that comes from it—may also change the structure and function of certain regions of your brain.
The amygdala is the reason we’re afraid of things outside our control. In people with depression, this little organ is overactive and larger.
The hippocampus registers life experiences and stores them as memories. Brain scans have shown that this seahorse-shaped organ is smaller and weaker in patients with depression.
The prefrontal cortex is your decision-maker, where you form judgements, learn from the past, and plan for the future.
When the PFC is triggered by the amygdala, it decides the course of action to respond to it. The prefrontal cortex may also shrink with depression.
Experts found a link between MDD and the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB maintains optimal levels of essential nutrients and neurotransmitters in the brain, and it also protects the brain from building up waste.
Researchers observed a large disruption in the BBB of the amygdala and hippocampus of patients with MDD, along with disruptions in the connectivity circuits of the prefrontal cortex.
Even though there’s still a great gap in understanding how the depressed brain really works, there’s no doubt that scientists are giving us important insights about it.
Brain scans are also teaching us…
How to Heal Your Brain
The brain areas involved in mood, memory, and decision-making may change their function and size in response to stress and depression. However, we’re not powerless, as these brain changes can be prevented and even reversed.
For most of the 20th century, scientists believed the human brain stopped growing brand-new neurons when we’re still very young.
It turns out that that’s NOT true.
Now we know that the brain is able to regenerate. This is called neurogenesis. Throughout our lives, we keep forming billions of brand-new neurons. Through deep intellectual thought, these neurons make new connections. And more connections can grow our brains until our last breathe.
SSRIs can help regenerate the hippocampus, a key player in mental health. That’s probably the real reason why antidepressants work for some people, and not the stubborn serotonin imbalance myth.
And that’s also why hippocampal neurogenesis is the groundbreaking concept scientists are focusing on for studying depression.
The problem is that these drugs are hit-or-miss. They work for some people but not at all for others, and nobody knows how they interact with your brain in the long-term—let alone their side effects that often cause people to skip them.
The good news is there are natural ways to rewire and heal your brain, and that’s where CBD takes party.
Let’s learn a bit about this amazing substance.
What Is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, the most exciting active compound in cannabis medicine nowadays. CBD belongs to a class called “cannabinoids.” There are over 100 of these compounds in cannabis plants.
Each cannabinoid has a different effect on the human body.
The best feature of CBD is that it has the potential to help your health in many different ways without the risk of getting you high. Not even a single bit.
Scientists are hard at work figuring out how CBD works in your body and brain. However, they’ve already made breakthrough discoveries like finding a system that perfectly interacts with all cannabinoids.
This system is known as the “endocannabinoid system.”—The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a powerful network of receptors, messengers, and enzymes that promotes your well-being.
Three components comprise the ECS:
- Cannabinoid receptors. There are 2 subtypes: CB1 and CB2.
- These come in pairs too: anandamide and 2-AG.
The human body is unique, but the ECS is not exclusive to humans. In fact, every living animal has one. It’s unlikely that you heard of this system in school, because it wasn’t discovered by scientists until the 1990s.
If your endocannabinoid system is disrupted disease and mental disorders will appear.
CBD & Neurogenesis
Neurogenesis might be your secret weapon against depression, but there are a number of obstacles—like alcohol, aging, and a poor diet—that can throw a wrench into this process.
That’s why healthy living habits such as exercise, a balanced diet, and restorative sleep can help not only activate but also maintain neurogenesis. Recently, CBD has emerged as a natural solution that helps you grow fresh new cells in your brain.
It should be noted that studies to prove the benefits of CBD for depression have NOT been done in humans but have been in animal models. Lack of clinical trials is the reason CBD is still NOT fully approved by the FDA.
In fact, the only approved CBD product on the market is Epidiolex, a drug to treat seizures in children. During the development of this drug, researchers found that CBD protects the hippocampal neural tissue, and that’s probably one reason why this compound is effective to control epilepsy.
If you’ve been following along, then by now you know how depression episodes can shrink the hippocampus. Thankfully, there’s a chance that CBD may assist you in the healing of this important organ and cutting off research is starting to prove so.
WAYS IN WHICH CBD STIMULATES NEUROGENESIS
Research shows that CBD could protect the hippocampus in a multi-pronged way by targeting these different brain channels:
CBD regulates several brain pathways, including the serotonin channels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that relaxes you and makes you feel that all is well.
CBD has antidepressant-like effects—antidepressants not only increase serotonin in your brain, but they also promote neurogenesis in the shrunken hippocampus. Therefore, it’s likely that CBD may have the same effects, and that’s what scientists found in a 2018 study funded by the Australian Research Council.
Neurotrophins are proteins that stimulate the development and function of brain cells and also prevent them from dying. They’re critical in the neurogenesis process and are intimately tied to the endocannabinoid system.
BDNF is a neurotrophin that has a symbiotic relationship with serotonin. Serotonin supports BDNF by boosting its levels.
And BDNF is closely related in the creation of serotonin pathways. These pathways are involved in emotional behaviors such as aggression, but they also regulate mood, feeding behavior, and sleep/wakefulness, among other biological functions.
We already know what CBD do for serotonin and in this study expert show us how CBD increases BDNF signaling and promotes the formation of new connections in the neurons of the prefrontal cortex.
Research has also proven how cannabidiol increases the supply of endocannabinoids in your body. CBD binds to fatty acid-binding proteins (FABPs) reducing endocannabinoids metabolism. As a result, more endocannabinoids (eCBs) will be circulating in your bloodstream.
Higher levels of eCBs in the bloodstream are beneficial for more activity in the cannabinoid receptors, leading to a better communication between cells and bigger chances of an ECS that runs optimally.
Anandamide, the endocannabinoid that makes you happy is also involved in hippocampal neurogenesis and CBD prevents its degradation by inhibiting the enzyme FAAH. This enzyme breaks down anandamide quickly after it has done its job. More anandamide means more neurogenesis.
A gene called rs324420, has been identified as the “happiness gene” because it decreases the levels of FAAH—anandamide’s archenemy. This may explain why some people are naturally happier and why others are so prone to depression.
Scientists have also found that CBD stimulates the PPARs channels. They’re the receptors that turn your genes on and off. Genes are proteins that are expressed in your body for a number of reasons.
When CBD binds to the PPARs, they tell your genes to promote anti-inflammatory gene expression, which is beneficial for hippocampal neurogenesis.
ARE YOU NOW WONDERING.....
CAN CBD REALLY HELP WITH DEPRESSION?
Depending on the cause, CBD may help you heal your brain. But it won’t magically make your depression go away. Think of CBD as another tool that can help you assess your progress more effectively.
We lack clinical trials, but anecdotal evidence is vast and shows how this substance holds promise on fighting depression. Here are some testimonials from Quora, answering the question: Can CBD help with depression?
“Yes, it has helped me with my life! I just feel super-relaxed but not in a tired way.”
“It has helped with my depression. In fact, I never knew I had anxiety / depression until I took the CBD oil my Mom had. It was earth-shattering. Not being on edge was something I never knew existed.”
The complexity of depression makes it difficult to tackle, but CBD might be useful as part of a long-term recovery plan.
Here’s how to take it.
How to Take CBD for Depression
We already addressed why CBD could be a great add-on into your self-care routine, so now let’s dive into how to incorporate CBD as a tool in your regimen.
CBD has antidepressant-like effects, and same as SSRIs, you should give it a few days or even weeks to figure out what—if any—CBD product may help you in your recovery process.
Things to keep in mind when trying CBD:
- CBD dosage
- Method of consumption
- Types of CBD
- CBD quality
- Side effects
There’s not a general medical consensus for how to dose CBD products. Science hasn’t caught up to the market, and there are too many variables to keep in mind when looking for a standard serving size.
But you can still find the dosage that’s right for you by trial and error. Remember, everyone is different, thus several factors—like your condition, weight, age, and genetics—can influence how much CBD would be optimal to help you find relief.
When it comes to finding the right dose, your new mantra is “start slow and go slow.” Start with a single drop of CBD oil; take note of how you feel and adjust the quantity accordingly.
METHOD OF CONSUMPTION
The method determines how fast your CBD will kick in. The most common ways to take CBD: vaporizers, edibles, and sublingual drops.
Vaporizers are the fastest way to get CBD into your bloodstream. A few puffs of vape e-juice can make you feel better in just minutes.
Edibles are fun treats, but they take longer to kick in.
Sublingual drops come in the form of tinctures and oils. They’re the most common method to take CBD. You put a few drops of oil under your tongue and start enjoying the benefits in about 30 minutes.
TYPES OF CBD
Legal CBD is extracted from hemp plants genetically selected for their very low THC concentration. Remember that a legal CBD product has less than 0.3% THC content. THC is the cannabis compound that gets you high. And it has been shown to induce anxiety in some people.
You can find three types of CBD on the market:
Full-spectrum: This CBD contains everything from the hemp plant, cannabinoids, terpenes—which create its aroma—flavonoids, and fatty acids.
These extracts also contain small traces of THC. Many believe full-spectrum is more potent because of the entourage effect.
“Entourage” is a term used to describe how all the components present in the plant work synergistically to make each other more potent and efficient.
Think of this extract as a full-spectrum formula without the THC.
This is the pure form of CBD and contains CBD solely.
The CBD craze and the lack of regulation has fostered an unregulated market where almost every product is mislabeled. Woefully, 70% of the products available don’t come close to containing what the label says.
In a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation, it was found that some products don’t even contain any CBD but instead are dangerous street drugs.
That’s why it’s so important to find brands that offer a Certificate of Analysis (COA). You deserve to know what’s on your CBD, and the COA is a third-party lab report that thoroughly vets products for safety and quality.
Stay away from junk. You should count on brands that use high-quality ingredients and top-notch extraction methods.
CBD is touted as a safe, natural drug because it doesn’t get you high, and its side effects are mild in most people.
But like any other drug, it doesn’t come without risk. Its side effects could be negligible, but they still can give you a crappy day. So, it’s important to go into the risks and rewards before trying.
Cannabidiol may cause an upset stomach, dizziness, or diarrhea in some patients.
Other people have experienced lethargy and fatigue when taking CBD in large doses. It’s not recommended if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
There’s evidence of liver damage on rats that were administered high amounts of CBD. The higher the dose, the greater the chances of unpleasant effects.
Toxicity is a concern at high doses, as is the case with most other drugs. Fortunately, CBD works great at small doses, because it has a cumulative effect. This means that CBD is a fatty acid, and it gets stored in your body until it’s metabolized, so it works better over time.
Another important thing that should be noted here is that CBD may interact with your depression drugs, making them less effective or exacerbating their side effects. So be cautious and address this with your doctor.
Depression is NOT your default mode, nor is your label. Yes, it’s a very complex and debilitating condition, but you weren’t born with it, and even the most severe cases can get better with the right treatment.
I’ve never been chronically depressed, but as a life-long anxiety sufferer who has experienced bits of depression, I know this illness makes you feel like nobody cares.
But that’s a lie, because humans evolved to thrive and struggle together. You need others, and others need you. I know it’s easier said than done or believed, but connecting with others may help you reduce the negative effects of depression.
It’s perfectly okay to be vulnerable, so if your world is falling apart, reach out and allow yourself to feel some human connection, text a loved one, call a mental health helpline or look for a therapist near you.
A caring therapist can give you the support you need to understand your depression and can help you pave the path to healing, but you must be proactive and do the emotional work to challenge your condition. Be as raw, open, and honest as you can to get the best out of your treatment.
Your therapist will also guide you on what medication can and can’t do for you. Remember that medication is a tool and that your therapist can help you to decide if it’s the right tool for you.
CBD holds promise as an aid to help you recover from depression, but it’s NOT an immediate cure or a first-line drug to snap out of the funk. We urgently need more research to have the whole picture of how this cannabinoid can help us live better lives.
I can’t stress enough the importance of always discussing with your doctor the pros and cons of adding CBD to your self-care routine, especially if you’re taking medication.
Use CBD as another tool in you arsenal against depression. Don’t settle for cheap stuff, avoid the garbage, and go for top-notch, lab tested products to ensure you’re getting the real benefits this remarkable substance has to offer.
Here’s to wishing you success on your journey.