Feeling sad or hopeless happens in the normal course of our lives. It is a universal part of the human experience. While it’s not fun to go through, it’s part of life and experiences like these can help us become more mature and compassionate people.
But what about when a feeling of sadness or emptiness lasts for a long time? In the Western world, this is usually diagnosed as depression.
Depression is a serious mental health condition affecting over 16 million adults in the U.S. Symptoms of depression include a feeling of hopelessness or despair, loss of interest in normal activities, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts. While depression is treatable, the side effects of antidepressants can be overwhelming and difficult to maintain.
Recently, attention has turned to CBD as a potential antidepressant. CBD is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, most often extracted from industrial hemp. It provides all the myriad benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive high.
CBD has become known for its many health benefits and its efficacy in addressing neurological issues like epilepsy. Now, the attention of experts and laypeople alike is focused on CBD for depression.
Could CBD be a viable alternative to antidepressants? Let’s find out.
CBD and Antidepressants at a Glance
- Claim: CBD is an effective alternative to pharmaceutical antidepressants
- What the research shows: CBD as an antidepressant shows great promise. However, most studies have been done on animals and more studies are needed to know for sure.
- All the facts: CBD may be an effective antidepressant, but more research is needed before it’s approved by the FDA.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called “Major Depressive Disorder” or “Clinical Depression,” it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.” Those with depression may lose interest in daily activities and have trouble at work or school and in relationships. The effects of depression can affect all areas of life.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
- Frequent crying
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Flatline emotions or no longer expressing emotions
- Sexual problems
- Sleep problems
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Trouble concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
- Reduced appetite
- Unexplained physical problems
Mental health professionals agree that, as a general rule, feeling consistently sad, empty, or hopeless for more than two weeks might mean you have depression.
But the truth is, every person is unique and our psychology is complex. Life experiences, biology, and even our habits and environment can all play a role in the way we feel. Feeling bad for a period of time doesn’t necessarily mean that you have depression, but it’s good to keep in mind this possibility. Especially because depression is treatable.
Therapy is one common treatment for depression, and it is often used in conjunction with pharmaceutical drugs. Lifestyle changes such as getting exercise and eating a healthy diet are also complementary to the path out of depression.
While antidepressant drugs are a lifesaver for many, others find their harsh side effects are not worth it. Let’s explore the world of antidepressants.
There are several types of antidepressants. We’ll explore some of the most commonly prescribed ones here.
Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They work by preventing the reabsorption (or reuptake) of serotonin back into the nerve cells of the brain, thereby increasing the levels of serotonin and strengthening the circuits in the brain that regulate mood.
Side effects include agitation, anxiety, dizziness, insomnia, headaches, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, dry mouth, and tremors, among others.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) are another commonly prescribed antidepressant. These work by blocking a naturally occurring enzyme which breaks down serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine, thereby boosting these neurotransmitters which are associated with happiness.
WebMD states that, “although they’re effective, they can have serious side effects and can be especially dangerous in overdose.” Some side effects include high blood pressure, fainting, abnormal heart rhythm, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, changes in weight, and (less frequently) seizures, blurred vision, and hepatitis.
Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) work in a similar way to MAOIs, by preventing the reuptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin and epinephrine. Side effects include dangerous increase in blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, sedation, urinary retention, anxiety, seizures, headaches, rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, sexual dysfunction, and (rarely) liver failure.
Antidepressants and Suicide
In some cases, antidepressants may cause suicidal thoughts or tendencies in children and those under the age of 25. One study showed that SSRIs increase the risk of suicide, violence, and homicidal tendencies at all ages.
CBD and Antidepressants
Given the many serious side effects of antidepressants, it’s no wonder that people suffering from depression are seeking alternative methods of relief. If therapy isn’t proving effective on its own, is there a more natural remedy that could be effective?
Recently, the attention of the medical community and of those suffering from depression has turned to CBD oil. CBD oil and antidepressants share some common qualities, and researchers are working to figure out whether they are effective.
However, people are already trying CBD for depression, and many of them have found it effective. While some claim that they felt no effect, a substantial number of people cite CBD as having antidepressant-like effects.
But what does the scientific research say?
Medical Studies on CBD and Antidepressants
Many of the studies on CBD as a potential antidepressant have been done on animals. The authors of one animal study found that CBD worked more quickly than antidepressant drugs and concluded, “The data supports a promising therapeutic profile for CBD as a new fast-acting antidepressant drug.”
Similarly, the researchers behind another study on mice concluded, “our findings indicate that CBD could represent a novel fast antidepressant drug.” Finally, the authors of a study on rats said that the “results suggest CBD may be beneficial for the treatment of clinical depression.”
Other research on CBD and antidepressants in humans focused on the endocannabinoid system’s role in depression. The authors of one study concluded that the endocannabinoid system could be the target of “the development of a novel class of antidepressants.” This was echoed by the authors of another study who came to the same conclusion.
One study suggested an interrelationship between the endocannabinoid system and depression, implying that CBD could be a potential antidepressant.
Finally, this study indicated, like the others, that CBD may be an effective antidepressant. The authors suggested, however, that more clinical trials must be done.
Side Effects and Downsides of CBD
Harvard Medical School states that CBD has few side effects. Those which do occur are mild, such as nausea, fatigue, and irritability.
The only cause for concern is how CBD might interact with other medications. This is especially relevant for those considering combining CBD and antidepressants. While there is not yet much research on the interactions between CBD and antidepressants, we can provide you what information there is. However, it’s vital to speak with a medical professional before attempting to integrate CBD with existing treatments.
Interactions Between CBD and Antidepressants
SSRIs: Generally speaking, SSRIs and CBD may be combined under the appropriate supervision of a medical professional. That said, there may be some interaction between the two. CBD may increase serum concentrations of SSRIs and TCAs. Blood pressure may drop as a result of combining CBD and SSRIs. However, if done under proper medical supervision, they may be safe together.
MAOIs: These antidepressants can have dangerous interactions with other chemical compounds and, since their potential interaction with CBD has not yet been studied, it is unsafe to combine the two.
TCAs: These are also not safe to combine with CBD, and has been scientifically proven. One case report noted that TCAs had “life-threatening” interaction with marijuana.
Switching from Antidepressants to CBD
Dr. Sharon Olson of Hello MD discusses switching from SSRIs to CBD oil (note that this applies to SSRIs only). She says, “CBD should help reduce the need for SSRIs. You do have endocannabinoid receptors so the CBD is actually more effective at reducing depression but it does take 3 to 4 weeks before you feel the full benefit of CBD.”
As far as how to make the switch, she suggests the following protocol.
“Start the CBD oil in small doses spread out through the day, but cut the SSRI dose in half by taking one pill every other day. ”
She advises that you continue to “reduce the dose of SSRI medication by spreading your pills out from every other day to every third day,” and so on as a way of tapering off the SSRIs.
Dr. Olson adds, “If at any point your body freaks out missing the SSRI, you may take one or two extra pills but then continue with the dose reduction schedule.”
She also suggests using caution and paying attention to whether you get dizzy, because the drug interactions may cause a blood pressure drop.
However, it’s important to note that this is general advice from only one doctor. If you are planning on making the switch from SSRIs to CBD, it is vital that you consult your own doctor about the decision.
Depression is a debilitating mental health issue that can have a cascading effect into all areas of life. While depression is treatable, many pharmaceutical antidepressants have harsh side effects. Thus, people are turning to CBD as a possible alternative.
So far, medical research shows promise for CBD as a potential antidepressant, though more studies are needed to know for certain.
CBD may have dangerous interactions with TCAs and MAOIs. Under proper medical supervision, CBD may be combined with (and eventually substituted for) SSRIs in some cases.
We are eagerly awaiting more medical research on CBD and antidepressants.