CBD and Antidepressants: Exploring Treatments for Depression

Exploring Treatments for Depression: CBD and Antidepressants

If you suffer from feeling down, empty, unmotivated, and struggle to get through your day, you are not alone. These are symptoms of depression, a mental health disorder that affects millions of Americans, and it’s one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. 

An important consideration is that depression has a variety of causes. However, the treatment approach is typically the same. Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at UNSW, states, “This approach doesn’t respect the real world, where there are multiple types of depressive conditions.” 

CBD and Antidepressants

CBD products have become a popular choice among people who experience insomnia, depression, anxiety, and joint pain. What’s more, a recent survey found that approximately 80% of people report that they have found using  CBD products to be “very or extremely effective.” 

People who find little relief from antidepressant prescription medicines, or experience intolerable side effects that are sometimes worse than their original symptoms, are looking for alternatives. 

Researchers are exploring alternative treatments for depression, including CBD, as well as the use of CBD and antidepressants, and the evidence is promising.

CBD and Antidepressants: Just the Facts

Depression affects millions of Americans. The current first-line therapy is antidepressant pharmaceutical drugs, which often come with side effects. People are turning to alternative therapies like CBD products to use instead of, or with, their antidepressants.

Researchers are finding that CBD oil has antidepressant-like effects, and it affects several parts of the brain and the brain’s functions. Although research is just beginning, animal studies are optimistic.

Antidepressant Medications 

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro are the most common antidepressant medications. Typically, these drugs take 2-4 weeks before people notice a change in their symptoms. 

Before SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants were the prescription drug of choice for depression. Unfortunately, even at low doses, these medications sometimes caused several intolerable side effects, and sometimes caused seizures at high dosages. 

What’s interesting is that SSRIs will increase serotonin levels in the brain within hours of use, but it still takes weeks before a person will notice the antidepressant effects. This puzzling finding has led researchers to further study how antidepressants help with depression, and if they are the best medication treatment for depression. 

Understanding Depression

Depression affects your mood, memory, energy, sleep, and other areas of your well-being. There is no laboratory test to diagnose depression. Instead, your doctor will ask you questions about your mood, thoughts, behaviors, and other aspects of your life, as well as how long you have been experiencing your symptoms. 

Most Common Depression Symptoms 

  • Feeling sad, down, hopeless, or empty 
  • Negative thoughts about yourself
  • Irritability              
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • No longer enjoying the things you used to
  • Fatigue or moving slowly
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Changes in your sleep patterns
  • Changes in your appetite or weight 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts         
  • Joint pain, headaches, changes in digestion with no apparent cause

Our understanding of depression has evolved. Previously, depression was thought to be due to low levels of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter associated with mood, memory, appetite, and other behaviors. We now understand that depression is much more complicated. 

How SSRI Antidepressants Work

SSRI medications have been around for over 25 years. There have been numerous clinical trials on SSRIs and depression, and research supports that they are approximately 40-60% effective. This means a large number of people’s depression does not improve when taking these medications. One of the main reasons people discontinue SSRIs is due to its side effects.

Common Side Effects of SSRIs

  • Digestive issues
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Changes in appetite
  • Muscle pain
  • Anxiety

Scientists have developed newer theories about the causes of depression, including changes in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, inflammation in the brain, and the endocannabinoid system. 

Cannabis and CBD Products for Depression

People report that using medical marijuana and CBD helps with their depression and overall mood. While marijuana and CBD oil have some things in common, there are significant differences between the two. 

Both products contain cannabinoids, including cannabidiol, which is also known as CBD. In addition, both plants are from the same family of plants, the cannabis plant. However, CBD products are from the industrial hemp plant. 

This is important because unlike the marijuana plant, the industrial hemp plant contains very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive component found in marijuana. THC is what makes people feel “high” when using marijuana. This is an important point because research shows that THC may worsen anxiety.

What the Research Says 

Currently, the majority of studies on CBD and depression have been animal studies. These studies have found that a dose of CBD causes rapid and sustained improvements in depressive symptoms.

There have been studies on mechanisms of how CBD may work in depression.

How CBD Can Help with Depression

CBD influences numerous areas of the brain that are thought to be involved in depression.

The Endocannabinoid System

Our brains and bodies are influenced by our endocannabinoid system. This system contains receptors which, when stimulated, affect our emotions, behaviors, memory, decision making, pain, and inflammation levels. 

Research shows that CBD activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors within this system and has an anti-anxiety and antidepressant effect.  

CBD and Brain Neurogenesis 

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that’s involved in forming new memories, learning, and emotions. Chronic stress is thought to cause a reduction in the number of neurons in the hippocampus, resulting in negative changes to mood and mental well-being.

New evidence suggests that both CBD and antidepressants affect the hippocampus by promoting new neurons to grow. The process is referred to as “hippocampal neurogenesis.”

Serotonin Receptors and CBD

Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that influences mood and behavior. Using animal models, researchers have found that cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), stimulate serotonin receptors (5-HT1a) in several parts of the brain. This means that CBD can help regulate serotonin levels, which interestingly enough, is the same mechanism of SSRI drugs.

Using CBD and Antidepressants Together

There are numerous reports of people who use CBD and antidepressants together. In some cases, people would like to replace their SSRI antidepressant with CBD. There are, however, some essential points to consider.

CBD and Antidepressants: Drug Interactions

First, using CBD and antidepressants together may cause potential interactions. For example, CBD can slow down how quickly the liver processes antidepressant medications, which means the drugs will stay in your system longer.

Second, the FDA does not regulate CBD products. CBD companies do not need to meet purity or quality standards to sell their products in the United States. Make sure you purchase any CBD products from a company that uses third-party testing. Third-party testing helps ensure the CBD product you use is safe and meets certain quality standards.

Finally, antidepressant medications should never be stopped cold turkey, or without the guidance of a doctor. Stopping an antidepressant abruptly can lead to a sudden worsening of your depression.

Are CBD Products Legal in the USA? 

In the United States, cannabis products containing THC are federally illegal. However, some states such as Colorado have approved marijuana for recreational and medical use. CBD products, which contain only trace amounts of THC, are legal in America. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a CBD product, Epidolex, for the treatment of certain types of seizures

Final Thoughts

Depression hurts. If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from depression and you’re not getting relief from your current antidepressant medications, you may be interested in alternative therapies such as CBD to treat your depression.

Emerging research suggests that CBD products are useful for depression. However, you should speak with your doctor first to see if using CBD for your depression may be right for you. Also, if you are currently using antidepressants, do not stop taking or change your dosage without the help of a doctor.