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Could the endocannabinoid system and CBD help with treating SAD?

A new study examines the role that the endocannabinoid system may play in regulating our moods such as stress, happiness and anxiety

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Endocannabinoid: A woman with her head in her hands wearing a blue top against a blue background. The background has white lines to highlight anxiety

A paper in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry has examined the potential of the endocannabinoid system to play a part in treating SADs. 

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychiatric disorder. People with SAD have an excessive fear or anxiety of social situations where they worry their behaviour may cause embarrassment, humiliation or rejection by others. This could be related to performance situations such as public speaking but may also be starting a conversation or socialising at an event. This may cause people to avoid attending events, work or relationships.

The NHS currently lists cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or anti-depressant medication as options for treatment with SAD.

Hormone production

The researchers reviewed existing scans of the brain to see if hormone imbalances could be the reason for the development of SAD. They examined dopamine which is responsible for how we feel pleasure, serotonin which stabilises our moods and the stress hormone cortisol. 

They wrote: “The monoamine hypothesis and pharmacological approaches suggest that the neurobiologies of depression and anxiety share imbalances in the monoaminergic neurotransmission system.41 In this regard, neuro-molecular positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) studies in SAD have largely focused on imaging serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission, based on the reported efficacy of antidepressants.”

Evidence

The authors wrote: “Emerging evidence suggests that the endogenous cannabinoid system, also referred to as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), could play a potential role in the pathophysiology of SAD. This review discusses the known pathophysiological mechanisms of SAD, the potential role of the ECS in this disorder, current drugs targeting the ECS, and the potential of these novel compounds to enhance the therapeutic armamentarium for SAD.”

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The researchers concluded that the ECS could be a potential biological pathway in the treatment of SAD and is a promising avenue for developing more therapeutic approaches. They highlighted that there is a lack of human ECS studies or clinical trials which allow for ‘significant gaps in our knowledge.’  

Endocannabinoid system:  Cannabis leaf and a bottle of green hemp oil on a wooden surface

Could CBD help?

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes. These receptors can be found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them to send a signal that the ECS needs to do something. 

The main receptors are CB1 found in the central nervous system and CB2 in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor and produce effects depending on where the receptor is located and which one it binds to.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds to CB1 or CB2 receptors while it is thought that potentially CBD can influence the receptors. Researchers aren’t sure how it interacts exactly.

A study explored the potential effects of CBD on people with SAD. Participants were given 400 mg of CBD or a placebo. Those given the CBD reported less anxiety than those given the placebo.

Another study on anxiety and sleep also revealed the potential of CBD to help stabilise our moods. The study involved 72 patients with 47 primarily experiencing anxiety and 25 suffering from poor quality sleep. Each person was given 25 milligrams of CBD each day and the majority of participants at 79.2 percent recorded they had lower anxiety while 66.7 percent reported better sleep after just the first month.

However, there is more research needed on both the endocannabinoid system and how CBD interacts with it to help treat SAD.

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Read more: Can CBD help me sleep?

Mental health

CBD guides: Can CBD help with depression?

We examine the science behind taking CBD for depression to see if it could help with the symptoms

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Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions that can have a debilitating effect on a person’s day to day life. Could CBD help to ease some of the symptoms?

Autumn and winter can cause a rise in seasonal depression or it can make existing symptoms feel more difficult to overcome. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year in England alone.

The statistics for depression rose dramatically during lockdown. Figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that between January and March 2021 during the last lockdown, 21 per cent of adults experienced a form of depression.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression can cause a variety of symptoms such as a persistent low mood, unhappiness, low self-esteem or feeling tearful. It can cause a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, withdrawal from social settings, increased tiredness or sleep problems. In severe forms, it may also cause suicidal thoughts.

Seasonal depression happens or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) happens when depression happens in a seasonal pattern. The symptoms are usually more severe during the winter months when it’s cold and dark.

Depression: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clincs featuring a doctor in a white lab coat

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is non-toxic unlike the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

We have different receptors throughout our bodies. It is thought that CBD interacts with these receptors by giving them signals. In particular, it may interact with the receptors, CB1 and CB2 which are found in the immune and nervous systems.

How does CBD work for depression?

There are a few different ways in which CBD may benefit people with depression.

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Serotonin

It is thought that CBD appears to have a positive interaction with the hormone, serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is involved with a lot of different functions in our bodies but it impacts a person’s happiness and emotional well-being. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression.

A review of existing studies showed that CBD may have anti-stress effects that could reduce depression.

Another study examined how CBD could make a difference to people who struggle with this disorder. Participants in the study were given 400mg of CBD or a placebo. Researchers discovered that those given CBD reported less anxiety than those on the placebo. Which suggests it may work for those who struggle with the winter blues.

Sleep

A study examined if CBD could help to improve sleep quality while reducing anxiety. The study involved 72 patients with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 with poor quality sleep. Each participant was given 25mg of CBD daily then asked to self-report how they felt afterwards. The researchers wrote that 79.2 per cent recorded lower feelings of anxiety while 66.7 per cent said their sleep had improved after the first month.

Depression: A collection of CBD bottles and cannabis leaves on a white background

How do I take CBD for depression?

There is no right or wrong way to take CBD for depression. It comes down to personal preference although some of the popular methods include:

Vaping

Vaping CBD is one of the fastest ways to absorb a daily dose. CBD e-liquids are available in different flavours and strengths depending on what you need. It is worth making sure that the liquid you buy has been tested and is from a reputable source. It is absorbed into the bloodstream via capillaries in the lungs.

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Oils or tinctures

Oils and tinctures can be an easy way to take CBD. The main difference between the two is that tinctures are made with alcohol and oils usually have an oil carrier such as hemp or rapeseed. They can come in different dose levels that are designed to be popped under the tongue for a few minutes. The oil is absorbed through the mucous membrane there and into the bloodstream.

Edibles

Edibles offer a discreet, and delicious, way to take CBD daily. They are often available in different dose levels as gummies, brownies even peanut butter. Edibles have a slower release than oils or tinctures as they have to be absorbed through the digestive system first. However, this may mean that the body absorbs less of the CBD than it would through other methods.

What is the best CBD for depression?

No one oil is better for depression than another. If you aren’t keen on vaping, oils or edibles then are other ways to introduce CBD into your self-care routine.

Why not try CBD bath bombs, hot chocolates, massage oils or even skincare?

Depression: A collection of skincare products open on a bath mat with CBD oils and cannabis leaves beside them

How quickly does CBD work for depression?

While most medications for depression may take weeks to build up in the system, CBD is may provide faster relief. A study from 2019 reported that CBD has a faster antidepressant-like effect.

The longer you take CBD, the better the effect it may have as it builds up in the body. Some CBD is faster acting than others. Quicker acting methods are the ones that take less travelling through our systems to be absorbed so the mouth, vagina or lungs are quickest. Edibles have to travel through the digestive system before they can be broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.

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Patches and vaping are other quick methods of taking CBD.

How much CBD do I take?

This will vary from person to person depending on height, weight or symptom management. It is always best to start low or small before building up to stronger or more frequent doses.

Keeping a journal of symptom changes is also recommended where you can start to see the effect of the CBD over time. Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you expect or a particular brand doesn’t work for you as it can take a while to get the dosage right.

Would CBD help with depression and anxiety?

CBD is also thought to help with anxiety as well as depression. The two conditions are very closely linked.

A study from 2011 examined the effect of CBD on people with SAD. The participants were given either 400 mg of oral CBD or a placebo. Those who were in the CBD group reported feeling less anxiety.

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Mental health

ADHD patients say cannabis helps ease symptoms

According to a survey, cannabis helps mitigate symptoms and allows patients to reduce prescription medications

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ADHD AND CANNABIS
ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodiverse conditions in the UK.

Patients with ADHD report that cannabis helps mitigate some of their symptoms, according to a new study.

Survey data published earlier this month reveals that ADHD patients are self-medicating with cannabis to ease symptoms and reduce side-effects of their prescription medications.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder, which can affect people’s behaviour in that they can seem restless, have difficulty concentrating and seem impulsive. 

It is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodiverse conditions in the UK. 

Read more about ADHD here 

Mental health

Researchers at Washington State University conducted an online survey involving 1,738 students with ADHD. 

Participants who had used cannabis reported that it has “beneficial effects” on many symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity and impulsivity. 

Cannabis was also said to improve most of their medication side effects, such as irritability and anxiety. 

According to the NHS, there are five drugs available for ADHD that are stimulant based, but these come with side effects that include jitteriness, irritability, moodiness, headaches, stomachaches, fast heart rate, and high blood pressure.

Researchers reported that regular cannabis use was able to moderate associations between “symptom severity and executive dysfunction”

Authors concluded, “[P]eople with ADHD may be using cannabis to self-medicate for many of their symptoms and medication side effects and that more frequent use may mitigate ADHD-related executive dysfunction.”

Prior studies

An earlier UK study found that cannabis extracts were associated with improvements in cognition and behavior in people with ADHD.

Israeli data published last year further reported that ADHD patients with legal access to medical cannabis products were able to reduce their use of prescription medications. 

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Mental health

ADHD Awareness Month: “Cannabis helps to quieten down the distractions”

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