More than 350 million people across the world suffer from depression. Almost 75% of those who are diagnosed with mental disorders remain untreated, with nearly a million people taking their own lives each year.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression affects one in 15 adults in the United States, and one in six people experience depression at some point in their life. Although depression can strike any time, it usually starts during late teens to mid-20s. Women are more likely to experience depression than men – with at least one-third experiencing a major episode in their lifetime.
Depression is not your usual grief or mood swing. It is not a short-lived emotional response to a catastrophic event. Depression is a serious health condition that makes a person function poorly in school, at work, or within family relations. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 29.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Although they are different illnesses, depression and anxiety have similar symptoms including irritability, difficulty sleeping, nervousness, and inability to concentrate.
Episodes of depression can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. A mild depressive episode will not cause a complete shutdown but work and social activities will be difficult. When a severe depressive episode sets in, the individual might not be able to function. Depression can be chronic, and if left untreated could lead to relapses.
Types of depression
Major depressive disorder. Around 16.1 million adults in the US had at least one major episode in the last year, making this the most commonly diagnosed form of depression in the United States. Symptoms of major depression include an overwhelming feeling of sadness, loss of interest in school or work, change in appetite, insomnia, hypersomnia, psycho motor agitation, constant fatigue, diminished cognitive skills, feelings of worthlessness, and recurring thoughts of suicide. The symptoms may persist for two weeks or longer.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This type of depression exhibits symptoms of a Major Depressive Disorder only during a specific time of year. Episodes often strike during winter when the number of days is shorter and sunlight is scarce.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). Symptoms of this mood disorder include insomnia, oversleeping, lack of appetite, increase in appetite, fatigue, low self-esteem, poor concentration, and feelings of hopelessness. Low, dark or sad mood is persistent throughout the day for at least 2 years. Symptom-free intervals do not last more than two months.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This type of depression is a much more severe extension of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMDD can disrupt social and occupational function. Symptoms which usually begin seven to 10 days before the start of a menstrual period include bloating, fatigue, change in appetite, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anxiety, and extreme moodiness.
Bipolar affective disorder. In this type of depression, manic and depressive episodes involve irritable mood, inflated self-esteem, over-activity, pressure of speech, and decrease in sleep.
Depressive disorder due to medical condition. Some medical conditions – especially those related to the endocrine and reproductive system – can trigger depressive symptoms. Individuals who are suffering from hypothyroidism often experience fatigue, low mood, irritability, and memory loss. Cushing's syndrome is another hormonal disorder that can cause depressive symptoms. Other medical conditions that could lead to depressive episodes are diabetes, HIV/AIDS, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
Adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Sometimes the symptoms of depression only set in around three months after the stressor happens. These triggers are often major life events that cause severe stress such as marriage, new job, or new baby.
What options are there to treat depression?
Depression can be challenging not just for the patient but for surrounding loved ones as well. Healthcare providers often create a treatment program consisting of psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy combined with antidepressant medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCA).
While antidepressants can be effective in treating moderate to severe depression, they should not be the first option for children, teens, and people with mild depression.
There have been 150+ warnings from 11 countries – including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany – that antidepressants can cause harmful side effects. These include birth defects, cardiovascular disorders, liver problems, abnormal bleeding, Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome, seizures, stroke, sexual dysfunction, hallucinations, aggression, agitation, and suicidal behavior. Numerous studies also show that antidepressants are no more effective than placebo.
If you are suffering from depression and do not react well to pharmaceuticals, there is another alternative.
Medical marijuana has opened a whole new world of therapeutic options for various medical conditions. More and more people are able to find relief through hemp – maybe due to the relaxing effects of THC. With THC causing psychoactive reactions, scientists are now looking into another cannabis compound that has many of the same effects as THC but without the high.
How does CBD for depression work?
One of the active compounds in the hemp plant is cannabidiol. More popularly known as CBD, cannabidiol has been proven to help increase serotonin levels – thus improving your mood. It also targets the hippocampus which is the emotion center of the brain.
When CBD binds to the brain receptor called CB1, it alters serotonin signals. Serotonin is a chemical that plays an important role in mental health. Patients who suffer from anxiety and depression often have low serotonin levels.
The 5HT1-A is a serotonin receptor found in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdale. These are brain components that are related to mood, emotions, memory, perception and cognition. CBD partially binds to the 5HT1-A receptor enough to produce an anti-anxiety effect.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Zoloft block the absorption of serotonin in the brain. With more available serotonin, brain cells are able to transmit more serotonin signals to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
Patients who are suffering from anxiety or depression often have a smaller hippocampus – the brain area responsible for emotion, memory and cognition. There is also evidence that severely impaired neuronal plasticity may influence suicidal behavior. This is why treatment is often associated with neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
The human endocannabinoid called anandamide is important in keeping the body more relaxed. Unfortunately, anandamide is broken down naturally by an enzyme called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). CBD is capable of inhibiting the production of FAAH so there are more bountiful levels of anandamide in the body to boost your mood.
CBD vs. Antidepressants
Treatment for depression is extremely limited. Pharmaceutical drugs can take weeks or even months to make a noticeable change in the patient. They can also be addictive on top of a long list of harmful side effects.
Numerous studies have also shown that antidepressants only work for a few people. At least one out of three people with major depression do not show a partial response to antidepressant drugs. In addition to lack of improvement in their mental health, these patients also exhibit functional impairment, poor quality of life, suicide ideation, self-injurious behavior, and a high relapse rate.
Cannabidiol targets serotonin levels with a different approach. In an animal study in 2016, Spanish researchers found that CBD enhances 5-HT1A transmission much faster than SSRIs can. The quick onset of the CBD antidepressant action solves some of the main limitations of current antidepressant therapies.
Best of all, CBD is a plant-based ingredient with no or very little side effects.
What science says about CBD for depression
In 2014, researchers looked into the psychiatric potential of CBD as an antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like compound in animal models. Studies demonstrated that CBD did not activate CB1 and CB2 neuroreceptors. There was also evidence of positive interaction between CBD and the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor.
In April 2016, a comparative study was conducted on a group of ordinary mice and OBX mice (surgically modified to act as a stand-in for testing depression medications). After just 30 minutes, the group that took CBD showed instant improvement. There was noticeable decline in hyperactivity – often a symptom of anxiety and depression in humans.
Based on their findings, the research team concluded that CBD presents the possibility of a fast-acting antidepressant drug that enhances both serotonin and glutamate cortical signaling through the 5-HT1A receptor.
Although the results of the study look promising, CBD needs to be tested on actual people who are suffering from depression. Unfortunately, the Schedule I status of cannabis makes it difficult to perform clinical trials but now with hemp based products more research will be available in the near future. Congress has the power to change that if it passes the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act. The CARERS Act would change the category of cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II while also removing cannabidiol from the Controlled Substances Act.
Bottom line: there is hope for the 16.1 million Americans who continue to suffer from a major depressive disorder. Doctors and natural remedy advocates are excited at the possibility of CBD effectively treating depression – and provide patients with relief in as fast as one hour!
Antidepressants are dangerous, expensive, and can cause a whole new set of problems if you get hooked. CBD oil is completely safe with no serious side effects known. More research and human trials are needed to study the therapeutic effects of CBD for depression. But if the results come out with as much success as the 2016 case study program, this could be the best antidepressant ever. And it has been here all along since 10,000 years ago.