There is mounting research into the benefits CBD may offer those who suffer from less severe mental health disorders.
In this article, we’ll discuss what the science says about CBD’s impact on three specific ailments:
- CBD and anxiety
- CBD and depression
- CBD and sleep
Though the precise ways that CBD may impact mental health are not fully understood, there appear to be several mechanisms through which CBD may have beneficial effects.
CBD can also improve the signaling of other chemicals, such as glutamate and endocannabinoids. CBD specifically enhances endocannabinoid signaling by preventing the removal endocannabinoids in the brain.
Though much of the research at the intersection of CBD and mental health focuses on anxiety and depression, there is also research that emphasizes the potential utility of CBD for other mental health issues.
For instance, research suggests that CBD may prevent or reduce the psychosis that occurs in schizophrenia through its influence on signaling within the endocannabinoid system. Similarly, through the endocannabinoid, serotonergic, and glutamatergic systems, CBD may also help reduce tobacco dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
How Can CBD Help With Anxiety?
Promising data for the anxiolytic effects of CBD were initially demonstrated in animals in the 1970s and 1980s, and later in humans. The first studies on the impact of CBD on human anxiety utilized the Simulated Public Speaking Test. Researchers found that CBD could improve the social anxiety brought on by this test. Interestingly, though CBD is often ingested alongside THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, it appears to mitigate anxiety that accompanies THC consumption.
Research has since highlighted a potential role of CBD in alleviating symptoms of anxiety across a variety of anxiety-related disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic disorder.
As with depression, CBD may mitigate anxiety through its impact on specific chemical systems of the brain. Imaging studies on the brain have shown that CBD leads to patterns of activity that are consistent with lowering of anxiety.
In addition to its interaction with receptors, however, CBD may also combat anxiety by modifying cerebral blood flow.
How Might CBD Help With Depression?
CBD has been shown to have anti-stress and antidepressant effects. Scientists have suggested that CBD may offer fast-acting antidepressant benefits that are likely due to a combination of the signaling pathways that CBD can act upon. Its impact on the activity of the chemical glutamate, for instance, could be one way in which CBD could attenuate depressive pathology.
CBD also appears able to reduce acute stress responses by enhancing the effects of serotonin. Serotonin is heavily implicated in depression and is hence the target of several pharmacological interventions for this mental disorder. One class of antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), promote higher levels of serotonin the brain.
While the acute anti-stress effects of CBD seem to involve a part of the brain known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminallis, antidepressant activity appears instead to involve other regions known as the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex. There are therefore not only multiple chemical systems implicated in the potential effects of CBD on depression but multiple regions of the brain as well.
How Can CBD Help With Sleep?
Several medications that are used to combat mental disorders and associated symptoms also lead to insomnia and sleep disruption. There is therefore interest in how CBD may be used as a treatment option to circumvent potential sleep disruptions.
CBD at high doses has too been associated with sedation, but a recent trial showed that 300 milligram doses of CBD did not interfere with sleep cycles in healthy participants. Based on these observations and those showing that unlike some drugs that are used to treat anxiety and depression, CBD appears to lack dangerous side effects, researchers have suggested that CBD may pose a useful alternative therapy for a variety of disorders.
Though research into the ways in which CBD may affect sleep is still quite new, some researchers are also investigating how CBD could intervene in sleep disorders. There are emerging data that suggest that CBD could help with excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as with REM sleep behavior disorder. The latter is characterized by nightmares and active behavior that occurs while dreaming. Those with the disorder unfortunately do not currently have highly promising options for therapy, so research into the potential role that CBD could play is likely to continue.
Summarizing CBD’s Potential Benefits for Mental Health
Years of pre-clinic research have led to data that suggests that CBD may affect physiological mechanisms of mental health. With the rise in popularity of CBD, there is likely to be continued investigation into the role CBD could play in maintaining mental health or combating mental health disorders.
As data into how CBD affects our mental health accumulate, we will be better able to parse its utility for promoting mental health.