CBD (also known as Cannabidiol) has built a reputation as a kind of ‘miracle substance’ lately, largely because people use it to treat so very many different types of complaints. It has already been made into a licensed pharmaceutical for the treatment of epilepsy, and even the World Health Organisation report it to be safe and without side effects when separated from THC, the ‘psychedelic’ component of cannabis.
Formal studies on the way CBD affects other disorders are ongoing, and it may be years before truly final, peer reviewed and universally accepted science is published on the matter. However, the way CBD actually affects the body is becoming better understood every day, and if you’re willing to accept evidence from preliminary studies, animal testing and anecdotal evidence from people who have used the substance in different ways for years, you can begin to form a clear picture of how CBD works to achieve these ‘miracle’ claims.
Here we’ll look at two of the chemical’s most sought-after positive effects, CBD’s ability to mitigate and combat stress, and the way it helps people deal with depression. We’ve chosen these two because they are actually very closely linked, on the neurochemical level.
How does CBD fight depression?
Again, we have to look at what depression is on the chemical level to answer how CBD works to combat it.
Depression is a serious mental health problem, affecting hundreds of millions of people all over the world. It increases the sufferer’s risk of substance abuse, suicide and ill health, and makes the sufferer less likely to recover from other illnesses, stresses and life problems. A minor ‘bump in the road’ to a person without depression could be an absolute disaster or even a life changing event to someone dealing with serious depression.
Depression is traditionally treated in the US, the UK and Europe with pharmaceuticals called ‘anti-depressants’. These include Prozac (and its derivatives), Nortriptyline, Imipramine, Amitriptyline, Citalopram and many others. One of the things these medications have in common is a tendency to cause very bad side effects in a substantial fraction of users. Some clinicians cite the fact that depression figures keep rising year on year as an indication that something is essentially wrong with western medicine’s stance on treating depression, as well.
So, what does CBD do to help those suffering from depression?
CBD does not ‘cure’ depression, and we’d be a lot more suspicious of it if it did. Depression is complicated, and is often the result of many different causes all at once. What Cannabidiol and the other components of CBD oil do is to dramatically lessen the worst symptoms of depression.
One of the many causes of depression is an imbalance (either natural or due to external stresses) of the body’s endocannabinoid system. These are a set of specific neurotransmitters which are structurally and chemically very similar to the chemicals present in the cannabis plant. Of course, they perform very different jobs inside the plant’s cells, but what is important here is what these cannabinoid chemicals do when introduced to the human body.
Cannabinoids like Cannabidiol bind to chemical anchor points in the brain’s nerve cells which act like ‘switches’ or ‘gates’ to send, receive, or block nerve signals travelling from cell to cell. Different cannabinoids do different things. What Cannabidiol (CBD) does in the brain is to make the brains serotonin receptors ‘more alert’.
Depression is often thought of as a serotonin imbalance, and many of the common medications used to treat depression are classed as ‘serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ which prevent the brain’s natural systems from ‘cleaning up’ serotonin after it has been used to send a signal from nerve cell to nerve cell. This does make the serotonin signals stronger, and can work to elevate mood. It also has some nasty side effects in some individuals.
CBD instead primes the cells to respond more strongly to a smaller amount of serotonin. The neural effect is fairly similar, but without all this excess serotonin lying around causing other problems.
Many depression sufferers tell us the most crippling features of the illness is the fatigue, despair and anxiety which prevent them from leading normal lives. Depression sufferers who use CBD, either alone or in concert with therapy or pharmaceutical depression treatments, tell us that CBD often lessens these symptoms dramatically. It doesn’t usually erase them, but it makes them manageable. They tell us that CBD or Cannabidiol makes it possible for many sufferers to live their lives again, rather than being crushed under the feeling of depression.
How do people consume CBD to fight depression?
There is no official clinical guidance on this, so we have to turn to the collective wisdom of CBD users, and what they have found effective in the past. What they tell us is that CBD products are most effective against depression when used every day. Some people only use it for ‘flare ups’ or ‘bad days’, though, so you’ll have to experiment and determine the regime that works best for you.
If taken daily, CBD seems to be most effective if taken sublingually as an oil, in a capsule or as a tincture. Some people report feeling the effect almost instantly, and others suggest that it can take as much as 90 minutes to feel any effect.
If used to fight depressive ‘flare ups’, users report much better results when vaporising or dabbing CBD isolates. This is because the effects tend to be stronger and much more immediate when used in this way.
How does CBD fight stress?
People have been using CBD oil ‘off label’ to help them combat the causes and symptoms of stress for decades, but it was not until recently that CBD oils and other Cannabidiol containing compounds have become readily available to so many people throughout the UK, Europe and the US. With more users comes more evidence, and more formal studies are being conducted as we speak.
Clinical trials have been showing that Cannabidiol – the chief active ingredient in CBD oils – has tremendous potential to combat stress, anxiety and a raft of associated problems.
To understand how CBD affects stress, we have to understand what stress really is. Stress is not merely situational – something that happens to you. The same situation can stress one individual out so badly that they can barely function while another individual can find the experience exciting and energising.
The difference is largely genetic in many cases. We all have a different genetic makeup, and that means we produce slightly different amounts of neurotransmitters and hormones, as well as other chemicals which determine how we feel and even to some extent what we think. An ‘imbalance’ in norepinephrine, serotonin or other neurotransmitters can result in a massive sense of stress which is ‘real enough’ to begin harming the body. It can lead to everything from weight gain and fatigue to heart disease and a compromised immune system. Stress can literally kill you.
CBD has a massive effect on brain chemistry and neurotransmitter balance, it is called a ‘cannabinoid receptor antagonist’, which means it can prevent the overstimulation of the ‘anchor points’ on brain cells where these stress messengers do their work. It literally makes you relax by ensuring that your brain cells don’t get as much of the neurotransmitters which cause the stress reaction.
Now, there are a great many animal studies which prove this to be true – in animals. Humans are naturally more reluctant to have their brain tissue looked at under a microscope. Human studies are ongoing, but they are a lot less direct, and will take a lot longer to reach conclusive results. They will almost certainly show the same results, as CBD users almost unanimously report a lessening of stress and anxiety symptoms.
Perhaps more importantly, CBD is known for its total lack of negative side effects in the majority of users. This is doubly important for stress sufferers because of the frankly terrible side effects associated with many prescription medicines for stress. A great many stress patients who have been prescribed pharmaceutical medication simply do not take it because the side effects are even more disruptive to their lives than the symptoms they suffer. The cure is literally worse than the disease.
Many of these stress sufferers turn to CBD not because it treats their complaints more effectively than pharmaceutical drugs, but because it does so without the crippling side effects.
How do people consume CBD to fight stress?
As with using CBD to combat depression, there is little medically-authorised guidance to using CBD to relieve the symptoms of stress. We can, at least, look at how people have used CBD to best effect in their own lives and use this experience as a guide.
Stress can be either a long term, constant problem or a brief, situational thing. The best way to treat it will depend on what kind of stress you are experiencing, and the way your body responds to CBD or Cannabidiol.
We are told that the best way to minimise or eliminate the symptoms of short term, situational stress is to get the Cannabidiol into your system quickly, and in a relatively high concentration. This creates the fastest onset, which is seen as most desirable. Consider vaping with a CBD oil or dabbing/insufflating pure CBD isolate crystals.
When the goal is to treat the symptoms of long term ‘chronic’ stress, it is less important to have a rapid onset. We are told by users that CBD oil is most effectively use to counter chronic stress if you maintain a relatively constant level of CBD in the body. The key here is daily use of a relatively slow onset method of delivery, such as simply consuming a type of CBD oil or a CBD tincture.
As always when looking at purely anecdotal evidence of a non-prescription substance, you should be guided by your own experience. Keep track of the methods which work best for you, and use them – even if that runs counter to ‘conventional wisdom’. Everyone is different, after all.