Is CBD Good for Depression?
Likely, yes. And that’s good, because a lot of us suffer. Depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the U.S. it’s the leading cause of disability among people ages 15 to 44. You’re not alone, in other words.
As depression rates increase, more people are looking for help to counteract its debilitating effects beyond the traditional prescription medications that can have unwanted side effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) has entered the mainstream discussion of potential treatments for depression because the scientific support is lining up.
Since the 1950s, research has clearly shown that depression is a biological disorder. This sinister sadness can be constant (brought on by trauma or genetics) or situational (getting fired or divorced or injured). Researchers link deficiency of endocannabinoids with higher levels of depression. And CBD can boost the “bliss molecule” anandamide, improving both anxiety and depression symptoms. This makes it a plant-based alternative to antidepressants.
CBD has also been shown to increase levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF helps neurons live longer and promotes the growth of new brain cells and the connections between cells. These increased BDNF levels act as an antidepressant. By reducing chronic pain and inflammation, as well, CBD offsets several contributors to depression. Much research remains to be done, but cannabinoids are proving to be ideal therapeutic agents.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
CBD and other cannabinoids act as keys in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). They lock and unlock receptors for a variety of functions, much like how dopamine and serotonin act as messengers in the nervous system. This major signaling network continually monitors equilibrium within the body and returns internal systems to balance. ECS regulates things like memory, temperament, pain sensitivity, and hunger, just to name a few.
The ECS system produces two important endocannabinoids (eCBs): anandamide and 2-AG (Arachidonoylglycerol). The neuroreceptors CB1 and CB2 on cell surfaces bind to these eCBs, affecting mood, sensation, immunity, and the quality of consciousness itself. CB1 neuroreceptors are common throught the nervous system and—depending on where they are located in the brain—integral to mood, memory, motor function, and pain perception. CB2 neuroreceptors are mostly found in the body, the immune system primarily. They help the body moderate inflammation and fight off bacteria and viruses.
How does CBD help with Depression?
Depression seems to affect the body’s capacity for producing and assimilating these eCBs. This is where CBD comes in, because cannabinoids mimic eCBs! The body stops stimulating the ECS once anandamide and 2-AG have delivered their messages. Enzymes break down these eCBs and/or deplete the low levels associated with depression. CBD can inhibit these enzymes. This allows the body to absorb more eCBs, which leads to higher levels of anandamide. This critical eCB promotes general sensations of wellbeing and relaxation, and higher levels of 2-AG, reducing pain perception.
CBD is not a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), but it can elevate levels of neurotransmitters. It may, however, affect how the brain’s receptors respond to serotonin already in the system, prolonging its positive effects. In other words, CBD can be a natural, plant-based alternative to depression and anxiety drugs.
CBD Effects on the Hippocampus
The brain can lose volume because of depression. Loaded with endocannabinoid receptors, the hippocampus plays a vital role in learning, memory, and emotion. This limbic region alone has 27 different kinds of neurons, and damage to the hippocampus can be devastating to neurogenesis (the process of creating new nerve cells or neurons in the brain). Both sustained stress and depression prohibit neurogenesis. The hippocampus shrinks in people with depression. CBD can potentially stop its atrophy and degeneration and increase neurogenesis, doing the same thing as antidepressants but without the unwanted side effects.
Add these research findings together, and you have a compelling case that CBD can help mitigate depression and its symptoms.