There is a lot of buzz going around regarding CBD and its many potential health benefits, including reports of using CBD to treat depression. I wondered if taking a CBD supplement could really help someone who is depressed, so I decided to take a deep look into the published research on CBD for depression, how it may work, and if there is any truth behind the claims that taking CBD for depression could actually be beneficial. This is the first of a ten-part series of HealthyTOKYO articles I will be covering on the potential benefits of CBD according to published research.
What is CBD?
CBD or “Cannabidiol” is a chemical compound known as a cannabinoid derived from the Cannabis Sativa L. plant. This plant is probably familiar to you as one of the members of the cannabis family, marijuana. However, don’t let the fact that CBD comes from cannabis put you off, as it is a non-intoxicating component of cannabis. It is different from the other cannabinoid in marijuana, THC, which is known to produce the high effect. High quality CBD oil is actually produced from hemp plants bred to contain naturally occurring high levels of CBD.
CBD vs THC
To understand the difference between CBD and THC we need to take a quick look at how cannabinoids affect the body. Several areas of the brain and other regions of the body contain cell membrane receptors called Cannabinoid receptors. CBD and THC possess the same molecular structure, however, the atoms in their structures are arranged differently. Therefore, they interact with these cannabinoid receptors differently and produce different results.
There are two major cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. THC can bind to these receptors and cause a high, but CBD shows very little binding affinity to either of these receptors. CBD is thought to interact with other receptors in the body, producing a plethora of possible benefits, one of which may modulate depressive symptoms.
Legality of CBD
Before we continue with how CBD may be used beneficially, one question must be addressed. If CBD is sourced from a controlled substance like cannabis, doesn’t this make it illegal? The answer is not so straightforward, and brings us back to the Cannabis Sativa L. plant itself.
As mentioned above, marijuana is one member of the Cannabis Sativa plant family, the other being hemp. Hemp-sourced CBD is currently sold throughout the United States and in an increasing number of other countries. In the US, it may contain only trace amounts of THC (0.3% or less), an amount nowhere near enough to cause psychoactive effects. Marijuana-sourced CBD often contains THC, and is purported to bring about greater effects than taking CBD alone. As things currently stand, the legality of hemp-sourced CBD in an over-the-counter non-prescription form is legal or tolerated in many countries.
CBD oil is legal in Japan, but THC is not. Thus, properly sourced and sold CBD products contain no THC at all.
Now that we’ve covered a bit of background on CBD, let’s take a look at the claims of effectiveness around treating people with depression using CBD. In order to do so however, some clarification regarding depression and how it is currently understood is needed.
What is Depression?
Depression can affect people from all walks of life, men and women, young and old alike. General symptoms of depression include: loss of interest or pleasure in activities (anhedonia), trouble sleeping, lethargy, low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness, trouble concentrating and indecisiveness, suicidal thoughts, and continually occurring depressed moods. Depression can be very difficult to overcome, with both mental and physical hurdles.
Serotonin in Relation to Depression?
Some researchers believe that there is a relation between a serotonin imbalance in the brain and depressive symptoms. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter believed to influence mood and social behavior. One theory states that the origin of depression is related to brain cell regeneration, a function that is thought to be regulated by serotonin. Furthermore, Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs, PhD claims that depression may be caused when new brain cells are suppressed and that stress is one of the preeminent factors causing depression.
What research has been conducted on CBD for depression?
There are a number of pre-clinical studies (studies with animals) that have produced promising results regarding the use of CBD in treating depression. Two particular trials have shown CBD to promote an anti-depressant effect in mice. In 2014 a study conducted by Jose Alenadre de Souza Crippa at the university of San Paulo, Brazil, in association with colleagues at King’s college in London, found that CBD in high doses can directly activate the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A, thus acting as a potential anxiolytic (anti-anxiety medicine).
Additionally, HelloMD conducted one of the largest studies on the subject of CBD in conjunction with Brightfield Group. The study surveyed 2,400 members of the HelloMD community by cataloging their knowledge and experience using CBD. The results revealed that the majority of the members had positive feedback concerning their use of CBD in relation to variety of maladies such as insomnia, joint pain, anxiety, and depression.
Finally, I found multiple other accounts on health forums from people claiming that CBD helped them greatly as an alternative to antidepressants, or when withdrawing from antidepressants. On the other hand, there were also many voices that seemed to find no benefit from CBD at all.
While there is some promising research that points towards CBD as a natural alternative to treating depression, the literature is still limited. If you are already on anti-depressants and are considering supplementing them with CBD, do not do so without first consulting a medical professional.
If you would like to try CBD and you live in Japan, make sure to properly investigate the quality of the online seller you are buying from. In the United States, some producers of CBD oil include trace amounts of THC, which is strictly prohibited by law in Japan. Please insure that you are purchasing from a transparent seller that includes certificates and an analysis of their CBD products. If you have any questions about CBD or anything else health related, please do not hesitate to use of the site chat feature on the bottom right of the screen.
Before you go, just remember:
- Many studies show promise regarding treatment with CBD for depression
- CBD and THC both come from the Cannabis Sativa plant, but are not at all the same thing
- THC-free hemp-based CBD oil is legal in Japan
- CBD oil is available online for purchase in Japan
Other studies on CBD: