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Is cannabis more effective at improving mood than antidepressants?

Data from Project Twenty21 shows that cannabis may be more effective at improving mood than some antidepressants.

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antidepressants: woman suffering from depression holds pills on her hand

Data from Project Twenty21 (T21) shows that cannabis may be more effective at improving mood than some antidepressants, in patients experiencing major depression.

Preliminary findings from the observational study show that prescribed cannabis can help improve mood and alleviate depression.

Although cannabis is not widely prescribed for depression, depressed mood is a common comorbidity among many of those living with chronic health conditions. 

A questionnaire called PHQ-9, which is commonly used to measure depression, was sent out to 1,777 patients who are enrolled in the study. 

Among 628 people, who completed the questionnaire at both baseline and a three-month follow up, the average score had decreased by around 40 per cent.

According to T21, this is better than the reported effects of antidepressants on major depression  – an effect size of 0.83 (95 per cent) compared to an estimated typical effect size of 0.30-0.40 for antidepressants.

Prof Michael Lynskey, head of data at T21, confirmed to Cannabis Health: “These results are consistent with findings that cannabis-based medicines can reduce a range of symptoms and improve quality of life.”

He added: “We look forward to building on these findings in 2022 as we grow our patient numbers and expand on the conditions covered by the project.”

New NICE guidelines

The findings come as NICE has published the first new draft guidelines on the prescribing of antidepressants for more than a decade. 

According to the new recommendations, patients experiencing less severe depression should be offered alternative options, including therapy, exercise, mindfulness or meditation before prescription drugs. The guidance is subject to consultation in January 2022.

Cannabis has previously been linked to the onset of mental health issues, including depression, however, evidence now points to the reverse causal effect – that it is actually the depression itself, which leads to increased cannabis use, as patients are more likely to turn to it for symptom management. 

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While research on cannabis as an antidepressant is in the early stages, a paper published this year found that there is preclinical evidence that “alteration in the endocannabinoid system could potentially benefit patients suffering from depression.” To add to this, the same researchers found little to support the notion that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are “effective in decreasing depressive symptoms.”

At least in the short term, the “vast majority” of patients consuming cannabis are thought to experience antidepressant effects, according to a study published last year, which examined the responses of 1,819 people who completed almost 6,000 cannabis self-administration sessions using the ReleafApp symptom track in the US. On average, 96 per cent of users experienced symptom relief following consumption.

Nemo, a medical cannabis patient and participant of T21 who has diagnosed mental health conditions and experiences mood instability, says cannabis has proven more effective for her than prescription medication.

“Cannabis is the only thing that has ever been able to help me when the emotions are overwhelming,” she tells Cannabis Health.

“It keeps me safe and when I’m feeling overwhelmed or angry, it’s the only thing that calms me down enough to be able to think rationally.”

“It’s not always a miracle for everyone, but it is for me, it’s life-changing. I’ve been to every kind of therapy, I’ve tried mindfulness, meditation, yoga, the Headspace app – it doesn’t work for me. Cannabis is the only thing that is able to stop my mind racing.

“Whilst I’m still aware of multiple thoughts going on, and the sad feelings, I feel more able to manage them.”

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Cannabis and mindfulness

Bob Kennedy, the co-founder of the Chi-Ki foundation, which facilitates the use of cannabis alongside mindfulness to help manage mental health issues, is in agreement. 

“For me the predominant advantage of cannabis is that it allows you mindful practice, whereas prescription drugs leave your mind fogged,” he says.

“If I get pressured and overloaded, I medicate and it instantly grounds me. I’m in a much more relaxed state of mind and am able to make a choice, rather than just reacting. 

“The bulk of our work is that cannabis is absolutely key to the physical balancing of the body, but it does require a degree of mindfulness.”

Bob was diagnosed with depression 15 years ago and was prescribed antidepressants, which he says left him suicidal.

“I had a short but really not pleasant experience with prescription antidepressants. I went from being very depressed to suicidal, and I flushed them down the toilet after a week,” he says.

He has used cannabis to self-manage his health since, including his symptoms of PTSD and chronic pain, after being hit by a car in 2012.

“Since my accident I’ve had fast amounts of prescription painkillers. I went cold turkey and have now been three years opiate free,” he said.

“Cannabis gives me an opportunity to self-examine why my mood is lowering. I could not learn or grow when I was on the prescription stuff. It wipes your mind.”

For Bob, having a legal prescription, which he has been able to access through T21, has also had a profoundly positive effect on his mental health.

“The most significant thing for my mood has been accessing a legal prescription, because I’m no longer a criminal, I’m no longer just seen as a druggie, I have a valid point now,” he adds. 

“That ability to be able to consume cannabis openly, as though it is no different than taking co-codamol, has probably been the greatest lift to me.”

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Hope for the future

Nemo is still taking the SSRI fluoxetine – although she doesn’t believe it is working for her – but she has been able to come off strong mental health medications, including the antipsychotic aripiprazole, which she was on for eight years, experiencing severe side effects.

“I don’t believe I should have ever been put on it because I haven’t suffered from psychosis,” she says.

“For the past eight years, I’ve been emotionally numb to the world. While it works, in terms of alleviating some of the symptoms, such as my manic depressive episodes, it was also making me a zombie. I felt like I was existing rather than living.”

Nemo is open with her GP and her daughter’s health visitor about her prescription, both of whom she says are supportive.

“I truly believe if it wasn’t for having cannabis, I possibly wouldn’t be alive,” she adds.

“For me it is just as important to me as any of my other medications.”

Although it’s still relatively early days in terms of data collection in this area, experts say the findings indicate the potential for cannabis to be used as a first line treatment for those experiencing depression in the future. 

Head of Project Twenty21, Mags Houston, commented: “It’s exciting that already we’re able to draw these comparisons with commonly prescribed medications like antidepressants. It gives us hope that medical cannabis might become a first line treatment in the future and help people avoid having to take multiple psychiatric medications that can come with more side effects than we see through medical cannabis prescriptions.”

Find out more about Project Twenty21 here

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Mental health

How CBG has been a game changer for my ADHD

Stephan shares how CBG has helped him manage his symptoms of ADHD

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ADHD and CBG: An illustration of a brain and brain waves
How CBG has been a game changer for my ADHD
Home » Health » Mental health » Is cannabis more effective at improving mood than antidepressants?

Stephan Ryan shares how he has found cannabis, particularly CBG, helpful in managing symptoms of ADHD.

The number of people being diagnosed with ADHD has risen during the last two years of the pandemic, with three-quarters of newly diagnosed adults saying that the fallout from lockdown had encouraged them to seek an evaluation. Some of the reasons for this were listed as working from home, where there were more external factors for distraction, as well as the rise in ADHD-related social media channels.

Stephen Ryan, who is originally from Germany but now lives in Ireland, said: “Last year during Covid, I had a period where I was completely unable to focus. My partner at the time suggested I may have ADHD, and the symptoms completely fit, a lot of my behaviour started to make sense.

Anxiety: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinics

“I start a lot of projects that I never finish and go down a million rabbit holes. Work can present barriers that feel so insurmountable that I can’t focus or I can’t work on it for days before getting in trouble for not having done the work.”

Some of the other symptoms Stephen noticed were restless leg syndrome, which is associated with the dopamine deficit experienced by those with ADHD and periods of hyper focus. But as the pandemic progressed, he noticed that he was finding it increasingly difficult to focus.

Stephen has seen his GP and is now waiting on an official diagnosis of ADHD from a specialist. Covid has meant a long delays to services which has left a lot of patients in Ireland going private. Unfortunately, this can mean several hundred Euros to see a doctor before paying for any potential prescription.

Stephen has been told to expect at least three to six months waiting time or around €700 for an assessment. The cost of private diagnosis and prescriptions can be hugely daunting for patients.

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition. It can affect people’s behaviour in that they can seem restless, they may have trouble concentrating and seem impulsive. While a lot of people are diagnosed at a young age, increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with the disorder.

ADHD can often be missed in childhood, especially for women, which has led to a rise in adult diagnosis. It can also present differently which makes it even more difficult to diagnose.

ADHD is often divided into three different types:

Inattentive: An individual may struggle to organise or complete tasks, pay attention to details, follow instructions or conversations. It also causes a person to be easily distracted or to forget parts of their daily routine.

Hyperactive: A person with hyperactivity may fidget or move or talk a lot. They can struggle with sitting still for a long period of time due to feeling restless. They also struggle with impulsivity and may interrupt frequently, speak at inappropriate times or fail to wait for their turn. They may be more accident-prone.

Combination: They present symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattentiveness.

ADHD and CBG

Stephen began consuming cannabis before he realised it may help his ADHD symptoms. While he saw some success with THC or CBD, he believes that cannabigerol (CBG) was more helpful for him.

CBG is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant alongside THC and CBD. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the mother of all cannabinoids’ because it is the precursor to CBD and other cannabinoids.

There is very little CBG in plants, often as low as one per cent, making it more expensive than CBD products, as CBD is much more available. CBG tends to be made from younger plants, which contain a higher percentage. THC and CBD both begin life as CBGA before maturing.

It is thought to work the same as CBD in that it interacts with our endocannabinoid system via receptors that are found all over the body. In particular, it may bind to the CB1 receptors in our nervous system or CB2 receptors in our immune system. In recent studies, CBG has been shown to have the potential for preventing Covid-19 infections from entering the body and shows promise as an ingredient for skincare aimed at helping dry skin conditions.

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There are no direct studies on CBG for ADHD, although there are some which focus on CBD and CBN.

“I was emotionally drained and completely without energy, cannabis helped me to get the rest I needed,” Stephen said.

“I found a store that sold CBD so I tried that before trying THC but it wasn’t beneficial for me. I didn’t feel an effect until I started using CBG.”

He continued: “It was an instant change in the way my body and mind reacted to the cannabis. I started to mix CBD in there too. I no longer felt exhausted or tired, instead I found I was motivated, always excited and got lots of work done.”

Stephen began to join Irish cannabis activism, which is calling for reform to the medical cannabis access programme (MCAP) and for the legalisation of recreational use.

Currently, ADHD is not a condition which can be legally prescribed for under the MCAP programme. While in Northern Ireland and the UK, this is not the case and patients can apply for a prescription, Southern Irish patients who live in these regions, cannot take their prescription into Ireland without risking arrest or seizure at customs.

This situation has resulted in a lot of Irish patients emigrating to countries such as the UK or Spain.

The MCAP was introduced in 2019, but can only be accessed for three conditions: cancer nausea, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. 

CBG and ADHD: A collection of CBD products and cannabis leaves

CBG and stress

Unfortunately, during the first lockdown, Stephen experienced a break-up with his partner who he lived with at the time. 

“It was incredibly stressful but for the first time with the cannabis and CBG, I was able to get some self-reflection during this chaotic time of my life. CBG has been an absolute game-changer for me. I felt this incredible motivation, positivity and creativity,” he said.

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“One thing I noticed with my cannabis use before I knew about my ADHD , is that after a tolerance break, it had an amazing ability to put me in the zone.”

Stephen is conscious of the cannabinoids that he uses and how they make him feel, preferring to use a CBD flower, after  finding that THC and CBD did not suit him.  He is open to the idea of a prescription for medical cannabis but feels that it may be a while before ADHD is recognised by the MCAP.

“I would be happy to go on the system if it was available for me, I would be proud to have a prescription because it is a medicine and this is the first step of not being criminalised for it,” he said.

Stephen hopes that general awareness of ADHD Ireland will improve to help those who may need more support, especially in schools. He would also like to see less of a gap between the recreational and medicinal communities.

“I would love to see more awareness,” he said.

“When I was in school, the classes were too big for teachers to pay any attention to individual students, so there wasn’t much understanding of it.”

Stephen added: “Cannabis is medicine. The term recreational has been mixed up in that sense, as it means to recreate yourself mentally, physically and spiritually, but it’s become a negative storyline. People are getting the health benefits by consuming it. We need to change the narrative around this, that’s why we are becoming activists.”

 

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Mental health

How this US brand is helping veterans access free CBD

“U.S. military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals so we thought the project would be a perfect fit.”

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Home » Health » Mental health » Is cannabis more effective at improving mood than antidepressants?

US vaping supply brand, CCELL, has partnered with the Veteran’s Walk and Talk project to provide free access to CBD.

CCELL will be partnering with the Veterans Walk and Talk (VWAT) to gift its members with limited edition CBD vapes that highlight their military service. 

Veterans Walk and Talk is a community project based in the US, offering support, psychedelic therapy and cannabis.

It was founded in 2016 by Colin Wells, who served in the US Army, as a way for veterans in Southern California, Sacramento and Oklahoma, to take control of their health journey.

The project now holds regular community outreach events that provide veterans with a one-on-one psychedelic or cannabis walk and talk therapy or group hikes. They also hold trail and beach clean-ups where the community come together to give back to nature along with book clubs and comedy nights.

Veterans: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinics

To mark the firm’s fifth anniversary, the CCELL team decided to join forces with VWAT.

Speaking with Cannabis Health, Joe Strain, vice president of CCELL said: “VWAT started with veterans in mind. Founder Colin Wells, who served in the US Army and experienced withdrawal traumas, began posting on social media to see if anybody wanted to join him on his hikes as a means to relieve stress.

“On these hikes, he’d provide free cannabis, education and a safe space for people to talk. These hikes inspired him to start VWAT as a way to give back to his community, with the main goal of reducing the suicide epidemic among veterans. Now, VWAT has 12 chapters across the country, all carrying the same mission.”

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Joe added: “US military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals, so we thought they would be a perfect fit. We heard about what VWAT is doing for veterans and decided to support the organisation on its mission to help improve the lives and health of veterans by providing them with CBD vaporisers. The alignment was undeniable, and we’re honoured to be a part of helping them further their mission.”

The high-quality vapes will be provided by Hhemp and Litty Extracts will supply the CBD.

Mental health and veterans

Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common among veterans. The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating causing flashbacks, nightmares or physical effects such as nausea or pain.

study from 2017 highlighted the difference in PTSD between veterans and civilians. In the study of 5,826 veterans, researchers recorded a rate of 13 per cent with PTSD. This is almost double the seven per cent of the US population with a PTSD diagnosis.

Studies show CBD may help PTSD by interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. 

Joe explained: “It’s known that many veterans deal with PTSD after they have served. Studies have shown that CBD can be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. This can potentially afford members the opportunity to manage their symptoms without excessive pharmaceutical drugs, which often cause side effects.”

He added: “CCELL has produced limited edition CBD vapes which will signify that the users of the vapes are members of Veteran’s Walk and Talk. Not only is this great for the members, but it is also significant for this non-profit organisation as it helps to spread awareness about the great work that VWAT does and will help encourage more people in need to join.”

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Mental health

Can CBD help with feelings of sadness on blue Monday?

Blue Monday may or may not be a real thing, but feelings of sadness, anxiety and stress are.

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Blue Monday: A woman sitting on the floor with a jumble of thoughts.

The third Monday in January is often referred to as ‘blue Monday.’ But what is it and could taking CBD help with feelings of depression, stress or anxiety?

What is blue Monday?

Blue Monday is thought to be the most depressing day of the year.

It was created after psychologist Cliff Arnall was asked to create a formula for the holiday blues. It falls on the third Monday of January each year. While there is a lot of debate as to whether it is real or not, depression and anxiety can be difficult to cope with.

Blue Monday: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinics

January can be a really hard time of year for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It may be due to the increase in cold weather, post-holiday sadness and credit card statements.

Real or not, it can be an opportunity to start talking about how depression or anxiety affect us all.

Could CBD help to lift our mood during this difficult month?

CBD for depression

Symptoms of depression can include 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, tiredness or sleep issues. In severe forms, it may also cause suicidal thoughts.

CBD may have a positive interaction with the hormone, serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is involved with different functions in our bodies but it can impact a person’s happiness or emotional well-being. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression.

A study examined how CBD could make a difference to people who struggle with seasonal depression. Participants in the study were given 400mg of CBD or a placebo. Researchers reported those given the CBD reported less anxiety than those on the placebo.

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CBD for anxiety

Anxiety is a reaction to stress creating an apprehensive feeling about what may happen. Some people struggle with strong feelings of anxiety every day. These feelings of anxiety can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder.

A study on CBD and sleep quality also found it may reduce anxiety. It involved 72 participants with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 with poor quality sleep. Each participant was given a daily dose of 25mg of CBD then asked to report how they felt afterwards. The researchers recorded that 79.2 per cent recorded reduced anxiety and 66.7 per cent said their sleep had improved after the first month.

CBD for stress

Our bodies naturally produce a hormone called cortisol which is responsible for our feelings of stress. When we encounter fear or a stressful situation, our brain signals our nerve and hormone systems. Adrenaline and cortisol rush into our body causing a spike in blood pressure and heart rate.

Cortisol increases the glucose in the bloodstream and increases the availability of substances that can repair tissue. It controls mood, motivation and fear.

In one study, male participants with Parkinson’s disease were given CBD then asked to undergo a simulated public speaking test. Researchers reported that an oral dose of 300 mg of CBD given 90 minutes before the test reduce the participant’s anxiety and stress.

The best way to take CBD

There is no right or wrong way to take CBD if you are feeling blue.

The most common ways to take CBD are oils or tinctures, edibles or vaping. Each person may have an individual preference for one method over another. Oils or tinctures can be great if you need a quick, easy way to take a dose but vaping helps the CBD to reach the system faster. This could be a great choice if you are struggling with panic attacks and need a faster dose.

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Edibles are a discreet way to take CBD and they also taste nicer than some oils. The best way to decide what is right for you is to try different methods until you find the one you prefer.

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