Recent years has seen an influx of proven benefits that CBD has to offer. Cannabidiol has shown relief to sufferers of many physical conditions, from psoriasis to arthritis. But what about mental health issues? In fact, CBD has proven a Godsend to victims of anxiety and depression; so much so, it may be the biggest reason for its ever-expanding consumer base.
CBD, scientifically known as cannabidiol is one of many cannabinoids discovered in the cannabis plant. A natural substance, a molecule that interacts with our endocannabinoid system. If you are not familiar with CBD and the cannabis plants other cannabinoids, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the infamous (yet medical marvel) cannabinoid, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the psychoactive molecule that provides cannabis with its recreational value.
More common in hemp (the member of the cannabis family that contains fewer than 0.3% THC), CBD is now considered to be perhaps the finest anti-inflammatory that nature has to offer.
Can CBD help with anxiety?
An estimated one million people in the UK alone turn to CBD for one reason or another, with the majority seeking a solution for anxiety. This is no surprise, as anxiety is a global problem. In 2017, the WHO (the World Health Organisation) released a report stating that an estimated 264 million people suffer from an anxiety disorder, worldwide. Around 18% of the population suffers from a disorder at any one time, with as much as 30% experiencing some form of anxiety at some stage in their life.
Cannabis products have been used to treat anxiety since the 1500s. The Journal of Psychopharmacology says that both human and animal studies indicate that Cannabidiol can be used effectively against anxiety. A study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in 2011 specifically cited Cannabidiol’s effectiveness against social anxiety, one of the most common forms in the UK. Neurotherapeutics published a 2015 study showing that CBD products can be used to treat acute flare-ups of a wide range of anxiety issues, including PTSD, social anxiety, panic disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder.
Cannabidiol tends to cause zero side effects. However, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist when using CBD alongside pharmaceutical medications.
How does CBD combat anxiety?
Studies suggest that Cannabidiol is a powerful ‘5-HT1A agonist’. Meaning that it binds to certain types of serotonin receptors in the brain in such a way that it makes it more responsive to the serotonin naturally present. Many pharmaceutical treatments for anxiety rely on forcing the brain to produce extra serotonin or reducing its ability to clear serotonin from its tissues.
The reason that CBD works so well against anxiety is that it boosts serotonin signaling the same way as SRIs and existing pharmaceuticals. However, it has fewer side effects (some would say none) by working with the brain’s natural chemicals, in a gentler way.
Some studies have shown that treatment with CBD causes new neurons to form in the hippocampus in the same way as when the sufferer is successfully treated for anxiety in other ways. It is not yet clear whether this causes the relief of anxiety symptoms or merely represents the brain ‘getting back to normal’ after suffering severe, long term anxiety.
Does CBD also help with depression?
Depression is also a global concern. Between 5% and 10% of people in the Western world are diagnosed with depression or a related mood disorder. Again there are many types of depression, The most common are:
- seasonal affective disorder
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- major depressive disorder (AKA clinical depression)
- disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
- bipolar disorder
As with anxiety disorders, it is not uncommon for sufferers to be diagnosed with more than one type of depression.
CBD products have proven to be a viable remedy for multiple mental health disorders.
For long term depression management, conventional wisdom suggests that taking relatively low doses on a daily basis is the best approach. Most people report an elevated mood almost immediately, with many saying that it lessens the sensation and symptoms of depression for up to 24 hours.
For the treatment of acute, short term depression, most users suggest vaporising, smoking or insufflating a CBD isolate, as this gets the Cannabidiol into your system with immediate effect. As CBD is not associated with risk of side effects, many are turning to CBD as an alternative and preferred solution.
How does CBD fight depression?
Our bodies produce a large number of cannabinoids, independently, known as endocannabinoids. They work to influence or regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. These are all areas affected by depression. Endocannabinoids work by binding to chemical receptor sites on brain cells and other neural tissue. There they change the way serotonin and related neurotransmitters move nerve signals from cell to cell.
This is a massive oversimplification, but in general, more serotonin signaling means improved moods, less stress, less anxiety and a happier state of mind. It sounds a lot like the way serotonin works in anxiety as it’s essentially the same system.
CBD changes the way endocannabinoids work in the brain. Just like in anxiety disorders, it makes the serotonin that is already present send a stronger signal, and this seems to make the symptoms of depression lessen or disappear in the same manner as pharmaceutical SRIs and other depression medications – only without the severe side effects.
When are we likely to see Cannabidiol based pharmaceuticals on the market?
Well, they are here already, at least in the basic sense. Epidiolex is the first Cannabidiol drug to be approved by the relevant authorities in the UK and US. It can be prescribed now and is in use as an anti-seizure agent for particularly hard to treat types of epilepsy. It is essentially a strong, form of CBD oil, and is taken orally just as CBD oils can be.
There is nothing about Epidiolex that actually makes it specific to epilepsy, or makes it more suitable for use by epilepsy patients than anyone else. If it could be prescribed for other illnesses – such as depression or anxiety disorders – it would not have to be altered or changed.
Now, Epidiolex has so far only been approved for the treatment of two forms of epilepsy. “It is not currently approved for use against any other disorders, primarily because the rigorous human testing procedures have not been finished” says Rave Reviews. It can take years or even decades for a new drug to win approval, or for an existing drug to be approved for other medical conditions.
Further progress will take time, but with the clear effectiveness of CBD against so many different complaints – at least on an anecdotal level – we will almost certainly see new versions of Cannabidiol pharmaceuticals designated to treat specific illnesses and a wider use of Epidiolex.