Healing Your Brain: Depression & CBD
Moments of sadness or feeling stuck are a part of life, but we can usually find the strength to process our feelings and recover.
But when sadness or stuckness grab hold of your life with no end in sight, this can morph into depression, a disorder that can harm both mind and body.
If you suffer from untreated depression, we urge you to seek professional support. However, recovering from depression is highly individual — and better results come with a combination of approaches, including holistic lifestyle changes and self-care programs .
A growing number of people are using cannabidiol (CBD) products to assist in recovering from depression. If you’re considering adding CBD oil to your self-care routine, we’ve put together this article to help you understand the current scientific research about CBD and depression. Although clinical trials are lacking, there is good evidence that it could help your brain recover from depression.
Depression: Where Does It Come From?
Many people still believe that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance — a serotonin deficiency. But this is a myth perpetuated by pharmaceutical advertisements . Serotonin is definitely part of the big picture — but the verdict is still out about who could use more or less serotonin, and depression is linked to many other neurotransmitter imbalances .
Furthermore, depression is also connected to conditions like inflammation and the structural brain changes resulting from trauma or chronic stress — all of which could be the real cause of the imbalances. Ultimately, there are a wide net of influences contributing to whether or not a person gets trapped by depression, including:
- Physical illness
- Chronic stress
- Stressful life events
- Past trauma
- Physical pain
- Social isolation
- Other emotional disorders
With so many different avenues leading to depression, it should be no surprise that there is no single miracle cure for it. What ends up helping a person recover from depression is highly individual, and p eople who take a multi-pronged approach to recovery often have better results than those who depend on a single solution.
Neural Regeneration: Healing Your Brain
Although SSRIs cause an immediate spike in serotonin levels, it can take weeks before mood improves…if at all. So serotonin levels aren’t directly responsible for healing from depression — but what is?
It turns out that when people suffer from depression, a specific region of the brain can atrophy and even shrink — the area responsible for memory, learning and emotion (known as the hippocampus).
Fortunately, this unique part of the brain is also capable of recovering . It can grow new neurons and form new connections — a process called “neurogenesis” or “neural regeneration” — something we once thought only young brains were capable of. But research has since revealed the ability of our brains to change throughout our lives — an ability named “neuroplasticity.”
So, the real reason antidepressants work is that they actually stimulate neural regeneration in the hippocampus . This could be why antidepressants take weeks to kick in — brain neurons need time to heal, grow and form new connections. If this is news to you, that’s because the cutting edge of depression research right now is hippocampal neurogenesis.
What we’ve learned so far is that although antidepressants can help to stimulate neural regeneration, a wide variety of other lifestyle choices and supplements can also help with this process.
How CBD Stimulates Neural Regeneration
Cannabidiol recently gained FDA approval as a cannabis-derived drug to treat epileptic seizures. According to researchers, the major reason it works for seizures is that CBD protects neurons in the hippocampus — the exact brain area that is atrophied in depressed people — and there’s interesting evidence from both animal and human research:
- Rodent Evidence: In epileptic rats, CBD treatments reduce neuron atrophy and death in the hippocampus .
- Human Evidence: L ike depressed people, chronic users of THC tend to have a smaller hippocampus, but CBD (in higher-CBD cannabis) helps prevent this shrinking .
Scientists think CBD could protect or regenerate the hippocampus via the following pathways:
- Endocannabinoids: Endocannabinoids are used throughout the brain and body to help regulate memory, appetite, inflammation and more. CBD’s impact on the endocannabinoid system is complex , but it appears to increase the brain’s natural levels of endocannabinoids. In mice, CBD increased levels of anandamide in the hippocampus — which then stimulated neuron growth.
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): This protein helps existing neurons survive, while encouraging the growth of new neurons and connections (synapses). Multiple rodent studies have observed that CBD increases BDNF levels in the hippocampus while simultaneously reducing depressive symptoms . ( However, not all studies agree, so this continues to be investigated.)
- Serotonin receptors: Similar to the antianxiety drug buspirone, CBD activates a type of serotonin receptor ( 5-HT 1A ) . These receptors control a wide variety of other neurotransmitters, and buspirone has been shown to increase neurogenesis in the opossum hippocampus so it’s likely that CBD could have similar effects.
- PPARγ: When CBD binds to this receptor, it tells DNA to start manufacturing a wide range of neuron-protecting and anti-inflammatory compounds . Scientists recently discovered that this receptor also helps CBD stimulate hippocampal neurogenesis .
Clues that CBD Could Help with Depression
It’s one thing to prove that CBD helps protect and grow neurons (which it does) — but proving that it can be useful for treating a disease as complex as depression will be difficult. Although large-scale human trials are not available yet, some preliminary evidence is promising:
- Circumstantial evidence: There are conflicting reports about whether cannabis use contributes to depression or helps relieve it . However, when medical marijuana becomes available, young American men (ages 20-39) experience a drop in suicide rates . Also, a few years ago, a drug for weight loss was developed that worked exactly the opposite way from cannabis — by inhibiting the body’s endocannabinoid system . Shockingly, it was discontinued almost immediately because it drastically increased people’s risk for depression and suicide . Needless to say, the importance of endocannabinoids in mental health caught the attention of scientists.
- Experimental evidence — Clinical trials are currently underway to examine CBD’s effectiveness at relieving anxiety , and anxiety can be a major contributor to depression. Although we lack controlled experiments testing CBD as a treatment for depressed humans, pre-clinical experiments on rodents have been promising. CBD helped relieve depression in rats , even when they also suffered from diabetes. However, this benefit wasn’t immediate: Scientists had to give them a few doses of CBD, starting 24 hours before testing. Another study found that a single dose of CBD had rapid antidepressant effects on both mice and rats, lasting up to 7 days after the treatment. Additionally, in mice, CBD’s antidepressant effects are even more effective when combined with an SSRI . (In case you’re curious how scientists measure rodent depression…the most common experiment is to place mice or rats in deep water and record how long they keep swimming. The ones that give up faster are considered depressed. Don’t worry — the scientists don’t let them drown.)
Growing Your Brain Toward the Light
Depression is a mental trap. And it takes time and patience to rewire a depressed brain. If you suffer from depression, then harmful mental patterns can be reinforced by everything from your own thoughts, to imbalanced neurochemistry, to unhealthy neural connections. You might need support in all three of these categories to find a lasting recovery.
Although molecules (including CBD) can help your brain circuitry grow and form new connections, you’re still in charge of what types of new connections are made. If you combine brain-focused treatments with psychotherapy, self-help books or sources of inspiration, you can help your brain grow in a new, more loving direction.
And there are many other ways to help your brain grow new neurons other than with CBD or antidepressants. See our piece on natural ways to heal your hippocampus for more ideas to include in your self-care routine.
CBD is not a first-line depression treatment, although you might find it useful as part of a long-term recovery plan. If you’re in the middle of a crisis or considering suicide, we urge you to call a hotline or seek professional support. Also, talk with your doctor before incorporating CBD into your self-care routine, especially if you take prescription drugs with potential interactions .
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How To Use CBD For Anxiety: Does CBD Oil Work for Stress Relief?
CBD or cannabidiol is part of the cannabis family- but with less than 0.3% THC, it is non-psychoactive and will not provide the euphoria that marijuana does. However, similarly to its close cousin, CBD does offer therapeutic properties that have shown efficacy with pain management, digestion issues, and mental health conditions like anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, you may consider tinctures, oils, and supplements that can reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
What Are Some Symptoms and Signs of Anxiety?
First, it may help to define what exactly anxiety is: Anxiety is your reaction to certain situations or perceived conditions, including those that are stressful, strange, or dangerous. There is a sense of unease, distress, and agitation associated with anxiety. It evokes uncomfortable feelings that are not altogether unhelpful, as anxiety often aids in being aware and alert, thus avoiding dangers or risks.
- Feelings of despair
- Feelings of danger
Feelings of anxiety may be situational and could be treated with supplements, diet, or lifestyle changes. CBD provides another way to address anxiety quickly and effectively. It has been deemed safe for short and long-term use, making it a flexible option.
You may also choose to augment your CBD protocols with other homeopathic and highly effective ways of coping with bouts of anxiety. Some of the recommendations include these:
To instantly relieve feelings of anxiety, try deep breathing. Be mindful of each breath, breathing in through your nose and out through the mouth. Try this in conjunction with meditation daily for a healthful and calming ritual that may reduce incidents of anxiety.
Another homeopathic approach to anxiety is aromatherapy. Invest in a simple diffuser and your favorite high-quality essential oils. Some scents that can help with feelings of anxiety? Try lavender, bergamot, peppermint, and cinnamon scents to help take the edge off when feeling anxious or uncomfortable. Be wary of using aromatherapy around pets, as some fragrances can be toxic for dogs and cats.
Did you know that your diet can play a role in feelings of anxiety? It is true- refined carbohydrates- like cookies and fried food- can cause your blood sugar to spike, leading to feelings of anxiousness and edginess. This crash can create a lot of internal stress and distress; instead, snack on avocado, walnuts, and eggs for energy and excellent mood regulation. Other dietary changes to reduce anxiety may include limiting caffeine or sugar after a particular time of day.
Take a walk! Walking and physical exertion may be the best way to fight feelings of anxiety as they occur. Get some of that distressful and uncomfortable energy out with a brisk walk or jog. It is suggested that 20 minutes of vigorous exercise that gets your heart rate up and blood flowing can have the same antidepressant effects as many prescription medications- with a lot fewer side effects! Plus, it is helpful for holistic health and wellbeing; get moving!
Have you ever tried practicing mindfulness? This is a unique approach to treating feelings of trauma, anxiety, and depression that can become ingrained and instinctual over time with regular practice. When something triggers uncomfortable feelings, it can help to note your surroundings, sensations, and mindset immediately and complete a quick reality check by revisiting who you are and how you feel. This sounds a bit ambiguous, but ask yourself basic questions like ‘what do I see?’ or ‘am I warm or cold?’ can distract from the discomfort and bring you back to a more peaceful state of mind.
If you are interested in pursuing mindfulness practice, numerous online videos and tutorials can explain more. There are also some great books on the market to help walk you through learning to be mindful. Once you are mindful, you live more in the moment and can experience more joy from living and alleviate the plagues of anxiety and depression.
Comparatively, talk therapy can also help with anxiety. Therapists and counselors may be able to tease out the inherent triggers of your feelings, thus allowing you to be more aware and more adept at coping with these stressful and often unexpected situations. Your therapist may be able to identify if medications are a viable treatment option- as well as determine your candidacy for supplements like CBD.
It bears repeating that you should always consult with your practitioner or provider when adding supplements like CBD to your daily routine or making significant changes to your exercise and diet. It is promising that cannabidiol products can offer relief of anxiety for many- while curbing the uncomfortable side effects of pharmacological solutions.
Some specific ways that CBD may help with your anxiety include the following:
One reason for anxiety is poor sleep. Sleep hygiene is a critical component of holistic health and wellness; are you getting good rest? CBD activates the serotonin in the brain, which induces a sense of calm and relaxation. This may be why CBD helps so many get a good night’s sleep. By reducing the symptoms of anxiety-like agitation and perseveration, you may be lulled to sleep more quickly and for longer than without CBD. It is seemingly a win-win situation when considering the other benefits of cannabidiol products.
Doesn’t everyone want to be in a bit of a better mood? CBD shows great potential at treating mood-related disturbances and disorders, so why not take it for a simple boost? It is estimated that nearly 16 million people in the US live with depression. Some seek treatment; others do not. CBD has been used successfully with individuals living with depression by releasing serotonin in the brain.
CBD oil affects depression by impacting the hippocampus in the brain’s limbic system. This is the emotion controller in your brain that manages feelings of pleasure, fear, and anger. It also controls basic emotions like nurturance, hunger, or libido.
When you struggle with symptoms of depression, this causes the hippocampus to become smaller. CBD stimulates the growth of new neurons- which may alleviate depression. Many that regularly take CBD oil or other cannabidiol products to treat their symptoms of depression or mood disorder report that it has a similar effect as some prescription antidepressants, like Paxil and Zoloft. This does not mean that consumers should discontinue their current antidepressants instead of CBD- it is always best to discuss such choices with your primary medical provider.
Is your anxiety a result of chronic pain? CBD can help. It is prevalent to use CBD for chronic pain, such as topicals, oils, and tinctures. CBD alleviates inflammation, which makes it especially effective at chronic pain related to your back, arthritis, and neuropathy by acting on the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. CBD has shown success in relieving the pain of fibromyalgia and cancer, too. This shows promise as an alternative to medications, like opioids, which have a great propensity for dependence and abuse. Perhaps the most compelling feature of CBD is that it is devoid of the side effects that can cause interactions and complications.
CBD Dosage Information
There are many different ways to glean the healing properties of CBD. CBD oil on the skin is most effective at targeted pain like arthritis. You can use a tincture and put drops of CBD on your tongue. Industry experts suggest placing the dropper under the tongue for faster delivery of the cannabidiol into the body. You will likely begin to feel effects in minutes.
You might also use CBD edibles, such as gummy candy or baked treats, for a more extended, time-released type of CBD use. This would be an effective plan for people with chronic issues like neuropathy or mood disorders. Are you familiar with vaping? You may choose to vaporize your cannabidiol, but make sure to buy quality CBD vape juice from sellers in the USA for the best products. This allows for the fast delivery of CBD while also giving you some control over how much you ingest.
Cannabidiol Tips for Consumers
There is a lot to learn about CBD, so it makes sense to do a little research online before buying cannabidiol products to treat your anxiety. Plus, you should always consult and report changes to your routine- such as adding a CBD supplement- to your provider or doctor.
How Do You Use CBD Safely and Adequately?
Consider these CBD tips:
Non-psychoactive Cannabidiol products, including CBD oil, are legal in every state of the United States. It is widely available in capsules, drops, lotions, and gummies and is typically sold in smoke shops, drug stores, and online.
Always read the label of the CBD products you buy for dosing information- it will vary significantly from one item to the next. It helps to keep a journal of what products you use and how much- as well as how it makes you feel. This may help narrow down the market to the most effective items for your anxiety.
Remember that CBD also contains many amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, so it is a worthwhile supplement even if you do not suffer from depression. Consider incorporating CBD products as part of your daily regimen.
Ensure that the CBD oil and products you buy are extracted from hemp. CBD products extracted from marijuana plants are illegal in most states, and these will not be permitted to be shipped from one state to the next.
The side effects of CBD are mild when compared to other medications and treatment options, and topical CBD products do not enter the bloodstream, eliminating most side effects and risks. As with anything, however, there are a few side effects and symptoms that may merit discontinuing CBD use, but that is not alarming.
- Significant changes in appetite or weight
- Also, be aware of potential interactions when using CBD products as they may interact with:
- Specific over-the-counter drugs
- Some psychiatric medications
- Dietary supplements
Your doctor will provide more information, but if your current meds or supplements caution consumers of a “grapefruit warning” on the label, it could indicate that CBD and grapefruit- or derivatives- could cause metabolic interference also elevate the risk of liver toxicity.
The market for CBD remains largely unregulated, so make sure that you know what you are buying before you make the purchase. Look for local distributors with transparent labeling, so you know exactly how and how much to ingest. Always opt for high-quality CBD products made in the USA.
Using CBD For Anxiety Conclusion
If you struggle with anxiety, CBD provides an alternative that can augment your existing regimen or that may be an all-natural option for those sensitive to medication. Always discuss changes in your routine with your provider, but CBD is an over-the-counter, safe supplement that can relieve symptoms of anxiety gently and naturally. From tinctures and edible baked goods to topical oils and body lotions that deliver therapeutic levels of cannabidiol to the system, there is another alternative to defeat depression and alleviate anxiety for sufferers. Consider the many advantages of CBD for yourself!
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