According to preliminary research, CBD holds serious promise in the treatment of depression. However, more studies on people with depression are needed.
Gleb OleinikUpdated on July 12, 2022
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Although there’s some evidence that CBD can improve depressive symptoms, targeted research is lacking.
CBD may significantly improve the symptoms of depression.
CBD may improve depression, but most of the evidence comes from studies of other disorders. As such, human trials looking specifically at depression are needed.
Even though we don’t have much scientific evidence yet to prove that CBD can help with depression, thousands of CBD consumers are using this supplement. In fact, relieving the symptoms of depression is one of the main reasons people turn to CBD.
Although high-quality clinical trials are lacking, early research suggests that CBD may have antidepressant properties. That makes CBD a promising supplement to other treatments, such as psychotherapies, SSRIs, and other prescription antidepressants. While researchers continue to investigate whether CBD can help, there are a few reasons not to try it as it’s well-tolerated and has few serious side effects. However, it should be noted that interaction with other medications should be carefully monitored.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into CBD for depression and what the current research has to say.
What is Depression?
Today, depression is one of the most common mental illnesses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a person to feel unmotivated and disinterested in life. Its symptoms include feelings of sadness, emptiness, and even tearfulness that come on seemingly without cause. People with depression often lose interest in activities that were pleasurable before, from work and hobbies to their personal life.
Among these factors are differences in brain structure, changes in brain chemistry, chronic stress, and traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one. Having other health disorders can also increase the risk of depression.
Depression affects about 17 million people in the United States, although the real numbers may be higher as many people avoid medical treatment. It’s also more common in women than men. ¹
The main subtypes of depression include:
Major depressive disorder: The most common form of depression. The main symptoms are a severe disruption to mood and overwhelming sadness.
Bipolar disorder: People with this condition have episodes of depression and an opposite state called mania, where they may feel energized (usually happy and/or irritable).
Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: A type of depression that causes irritability and anger in children and adolescents.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): Although less severe than major depression, this form is chronic and can last for years. People with dysthymia may function in day-to-day life but suffer from joylessness, low energy, or lack of self-esteem.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): A type of depression that typically starts in the fall and lasts for the winter months. People with SAD feel low and often lack energy during the darker months.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): A type of depression that causes anxiety, irritability, and poor moods in the weeks leading up to a period. It’s similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) but can severely disrupt a person’s ability to function in their daily activities.
Perinatal depression: Depression that occurs during and after pregnancy.
Depressive disorder due to another medical condition: Many other health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, arthritis, back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic pain or disabilities, and HIV can make people depressed.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Depression can cause a long list of mental and physical symptoms including feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, irritability, anger, sleep problems, fatigue, pain, difficulty thinking, anxiety, reduced appetite, suicidal thoughts, and lack of interest in enjoyable activities such as hobbies and sex.
Typically, these symptoms must persist for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. However, the exact length of time depends on the type of depression.
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Preliminary research on animals suggests that CBD might alleviate symptoms of depression, but more research is needed.
In one 2019 study, CBD showed antidepressant-like effects in rats who were genetically predisposed to depressive behavior. ² Another 2019 study found that a single dose of CBD had a rapid, sustained antidepressant-like effect in mice. ³
Similar findings were reported in a 2016 study where CBD improved anhedonia — the inability to feel pleasure — in rats with depressive-like symptoms. ⁴ This is a common symptom of depression in humans too.
Researchers believe that CBD produces its antidepressant effects in several ways. Studies have shown that CBD activates serotonin 5-HT1a receptors. ⁵ ⁶
Also, serotonin and the corresponding receptors in the brain, play a key role in anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health conditions. ⁷
Endocannabinoids are compounds that are chemically similar to those found in marijuana and hemp but naturally produced by the human body. The endocannabinoid system is a special part of our nervous system attuned to these compounds, with receptors found in our brains and all major organs. Current research suggests the ECS helps our bodies stay in a healthy state of balance called homeostasis.
Studies suggest that the ECS regulates our moods. As a result, an imbalance in the ECS could contribute to both depression and anxiety, and other mental illnesses. ⁸
In particular, researchers believe that ECS can support healthy stress responses and promote neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) and mental plasticity. ⁹
There’s growing evidence for the involvement of the ECS in depression. For example, one 2009 study in depressed women found that they had lower blood endocannabinoid levels than their healthy counterparts. ¹⁰
Meanwhile, a 2016 study showed that the endocannabinoid “anandamide” reversed depressive-like behavior in diabetic rats. ¹¹
Similarly, a 2005 study found that blocking fatty-acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme which breaks down anandamide produced antidepressant-like effects in rats.
The researchers of this study concluded that “the findings support a role for anandamide in mood regulation and point to fatty-acid amide hydrolase as a previously uncharacterized target for antidepressant drugs.” ¹²
Since CBD also blocks this enzyme, ¹³ it could work similarly by alleviating depression through supporting a more balanced ECS.
Clinical Research Into CBD & Depression
Few clinical (human) studies have investigated the use of CBD for depression, but there are some promising findings.
One 2020 case report discussed a 16-year-old boy with severe depression, and social phobia, multiple substance abuse disorder. After unsuccessful antidepressant treatment with sertraline for over six months, he was given CBD capsules daily for 8 weeks.
The teenager not only saw improvements in anxiety and depression but was also able to quit abusing illegal drugs without suffering withdrawal effects. ¹⁴
Additionally, a 2018 study examined whether CBD can alleviate the harmful cognitive effects of prolonged cannabis use.
Twenty chronic cannabis users took pure CBD capsules (200 mg) daily for 10 weeks while continuing to use cannabis. They reported having fewer depressive and psychotic symptoms and improvements in memory and other cognitive functions after the treatment. ¹⁵
Similarly, a 2014 study of Sativex, a pharmaceutical drug that contains approximately equal amounts of THC and CBD, found that it improved depression symptoms in 51 people suffering from cannabis withdrawal. ¹⁶
Although CBD products contain little or no THC, these findings highlight the health benefits of plant-based cannabinoids on depression.
Finally, a 2018 study of 2409 CBD users found that 62% of them used CBD for a medical condition. Out of these, depression was the third most common condition. Also, 36% of the respondents answered that CBD treated their medical condition “very well by itself.” ¹⁷ While this wasn’t a true, double-blind study of CBD, it still shows that thousands of consumers use CBD to improve their moods.
On the whole, CBD seems to have potential in the treatment of depression. Still, rigorous clinical trials using placebo groups in depression patients are needed.
Tips on Using CBD for Depression
If you want to get the most out of CBD for depression, here are some helpful tips.
Studies have shown that cannabinoids last longer in the body and come with less intense side effects when ingested orally. But there’s a delay of approximately 120 minutes before it reaches peak concentration in the body. ¹⁸
To boost the amount of cannabinoid that is absorbed, you can try an oil-based formulation such as CBD oil.
Vaping CBD (like using a product from Direct Vapor) is especially helpful if you need immediate relief because it starts to work right away (usually within 5 to 10 minutes), although the effects are short-lived compared to a tincture (like a product from Pure Science Lab). ¹⁸
When taking CBD oil, hold it under the tongue for at least 30-60 seconds before swallowing. You can also swish it around your mouth a bit. This helps absorption through the mucous membranes.
Another way to strengthen CBD’s effects is to use full or broad-spectrum rather than pure CBD products. These whole-plant extracts contain all of hemp’s cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active ingredients.
By working synergistically, these compounds enhance CBD’s beneficial impact and create what researchers call the “entourage effect.” ¹⁹
Although CBD capsules and soft gels are less efficient, some people may find them to be a useful way to take CBD, especially if they’re already taking prescription pills or other supplements on a daily basis.
How Much CBD Should I Take for Depression?
The right CBD dosage for depression is different for everyone. It depends on multiple factors, such as your body weight, genetics, symptom severity, and the type of CBD product you plan to use.
That’s why the approach recommended by most health experts is to “start low and go slow.” ²⁰
You can begin with a small dose of CBD (10-15 mg), wait two hours to see the effects, and gradually raise the dosage until you find the amount that provides you with depression relief. It’s likely that with such a complex condition as depression, you’re going to need to take CBD frequently in order to really make the most of it.
This way, you can find the best CBD dosage for your specific case. Not to mention, many CBD products already come with a dose. For example, all the best CBD capsules are infused with an average milligram count of CBD.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Although CBD can cause side effects, it is usually well-tolerated. Many people take CBD without experiencing any side effects at all.
Overall, none of the studies that examined the effects of CBD on mood reported any significant issues.
The most common side effects of CBD include: ²¹ ²²
Tiredness and drowsiness
Diarrhea and nausea
Low blood pressure
Changes in weight or appetite
These effects were reported by studies using high oral doses of pure CBD.
If you’re like most people — who opt for smaller CBD amounts, use oils rather than edible products like gummies, and often go for whole-plant (full or broad-spectrum) formulas — you have a relatively low chance of experiencing CBD’s side effects. If you do experience side effects, they may fade away with regular use.
Although rare, CBD has the potential to interfere with some prescription drugs. Be sure to consult with your doctor before adding CBD or changing your prescription drug regimen. CBD should not be used by pregnant people or adolescents unless under the direct supervision of a doctor.
CBD produces antidepressant effects through multiple mechanisms, including acting on serotonin receptors and interacting with the endocannabinoid system.
Thousands of People Use CBD To Help With Symptoms of Depression
More and more people are turning to CBD to relieve the symptoms of depression.
Although human studies looking at the use of CBD for depression are lacking, there’s still evidence that it can help.
To begin with, animal studies suggest that CBD produces antidepressant effects through multiple mechanisms, including acting on serotonin receptors and interacting with the endocannabinoid system.
While there haven’t been enough rigorous human studies looking directly at CBD and depression, several human studies of conditions that involve depressive symptoms showed positive effects from CBD.
Since CBD is a well-tolerated supplement that only rarely causes serious side effects, it’s easy to add to the tools we use to treat depression. While depression is a complex condition that often requires professional assistance to fully manage, natural aids like CBD can only make our lives easier.
The bottom line is that CBD holds serious potential in the treatment of depression.
Gleb Oleinik is a freelance CBD & cannabis writer from Vancouver, Canada. He’s read thousands of studies about cannabinoids and other beneficial natural compounds, helping him translate complex science into plain language. He’s also written third-party lab test reports of CBD products and knows the industry inside and out. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym and out in nature.