Can CBD Help Depression?

August 15, 2020
CBD and depression
CBD and depression

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural substance that has actually become more attractive lately, thanks in part to a growing number of research on its potential health benefits, which could include dealing with the question: Can CBD help depression?


Preliminary results of some research studies on CBD and anxiety look appealing, suggesting CBD may help with depression. CBD is one of more than 100 substances known as cannabinoids, which are naturally found in the marijuana plant. While CBD is similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the two substances act differently in the body. THC is responsible for the sensations of euphoria or “high” that a person feels while using cannabis.


CBD does not have these effects on the body – it does not trigger high or ecstatic sensations. In this article you will learn more about the potential of CBD to relieve the symptoms of depression. CBD may not be best for everyone, and there are some other things to consider before using CBD treatment for any condition.

A Note about Health Claims:

Although CBD is touted as a treatment for many diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and others, it is important to note that the FDA has approved only one CBD drug, Epidiolex, for the treatment of two serious epilepsy disorders: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

Because of it’s interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain, CBD has shown initial benefits in helping depression.

How CBD may help with Depression

Understand first that research with CBD is still limited and in the early stages, which you should consider before beginning any review of uses for therapeutic purposes. While there have been significant studies done, most have been done on animals, especially in relation to mental health and neurologic issues in the US. Therefore any research, unless scientific or clinical study outcomes, is in the early stages, and long term impact, effects, and efficacy are not fully understood or proven.


That being said, there are some promising outcomes being reviewed and reported on in dealing with mental health issues, including:


Additional research and studies are being conducted and reviewed in relation to THC, CBD, and the combination as a therapeutic addition and support for conditions associated with depression, such as chronic pain.

The Research behind CBD

The evaluation of CBD in animal models has indeed provided some evidence for the use of CBD in support of anxiety management. According to the authors of the 2014 report, a large number of research studies indicate that CBD appears to work as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatment in animal models of depression.


Also, the authors of a 2018 report have shown the effects of CBD on stress reduction and antidepressant activity in animal models, showing a clear anti-stress effect after short or long-term use. In certain tests, CBD acted as an antidepressant. The authors also discovered that the substance worked without directly activating the endocannabinoid receptors of the brain, which may indicate that there is less risk of CBD becoming a habit or addictive.


Scientists have even investigated whether CBD can help reduce cravings in people with an opioid use disorder. In a 2018 research study researchers showed that CBD is promising as a fast-acting antidepressant. Many researchers studying CBD in animal experiments call for more direct research studies in humans, but their initial results are a crucial step in determining how CBD works in the body.

CBD vs Antidepressant Medications

CBD appears to have some potential  benefits over prescription antidepressants, most notably the speed of effectiveness and the severity of side effects but research is ongoing.

CBD Effects were fast-acting and long lasting in some studies

Most prescription therapeutics for anxiety and depression take a week or more to begin being effective. A 2019 animal study  showed that CBD effects were detectable and reported faster, and continued to demonstrate effects similar to their prescription counterparts.

CBD has also shown fewer side effects. Many of the side effects of anxiety and depression medications include sleep disorders, sexual function side effects, weight gain, mood swings and agitation. These side effects can compound the effects of anxiety and depression, the very conditions they are prescribed to treat. CBD, on the other hand, has not shown similar side effects, making it a more interesting option to continue researching as an effective treatment alternative.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are often reported, and treated, together. It’s not known if they are typically independent and one can be a side effect of the other, but in reality, those who are diagnosed with one, are oftentimes also diagnosed with the other. Treatment options for depression and anxiety is often considered for each condition separately, current pharmaceutical options lump them together, not knowing if they are fully distinct in their characteristics and treatment.


As both conditions are common mental illnesses that can have lasting effects on a person’s health, social life, ability to work, and overall well-being the importance of proper treatment of these conditions cannot be understated.


A doctor may recommend pharmaceutical medications to manage depression. Many of these medications may themselves have difficult negative side effects, such as mood swings, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction. CBD has been shown in initial studies to potentially treat both anxiety/stress, and depression, and may cause fewer side effects in some people.


The research results from 2014 could describe why CBD might be helpful in the treatment of depression. They show that in the majority of research studies CBD seems to have a positive interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin influences a variety of functions in the body, including a person’s emotional state and sensations of well-being or happiness. Keeping serotonin levels in balance is often an important therapy for people with anxiety.


The good news is that in initial studies and anecdotal reporting, CBD has been reported to effective in treating both individually, thereby making the use of one product to treat both effectively, while distinctly, more appealing.


In a recent study participants who were given 600mg of CBD felt less social anxiety than those who were given a placebo. A similar study in which users were given a smaller dose, 300mg, they also reported reduced anxiety.


Because science hasn’t proven a link between low serotonin and anxiety, the way it it’s treated isn’t fully understood, so most studies, even of prescription therapeutics, rely on outcomes.

CBD and Serotonin

CBD does have an effect on the serotonin receptors in the brain, and therefore could offer further scientific evidence into it’s effective use as a distinct treatment for anxiety.

While considering adding CBD as a complement therapy for any condition it is critical to speak with your provider, and do not stop taking prescribed medication without the advice and guidance of your physician.

Stopping use of prescribed medication, especially those prescribed for anxiety and/or depression can have serious and immediate side effects and should not be stopped all at once. Plan for any reduction or change in your dosage carefully with your healthcare provider.

CBD for Panic and Anxiety

Taking CBD may be helpful for people with anxiety or panic disorder.


Panic and anxiety affect large portions of the population, with about 5% of the global population experiencing panic attacks. There are some human studies, covered in this 2017 review, that have shown effectiveness of CBD for anxiety and panic disorders.


In human studies, participants who were given a small dose, 300mg, reported a noticeable decreased in their anxiety levels when asked to perform an otherwise nerve-wracking and potentially debilitating exercise: public speaking. In another human study, those participants who were given a higher dosage of CBD (600mg) reported a significant decrease in anxiety in those already suffering from social anxiety.

Side effects of CBD

CBD, while not associated with the common side effects of medications typically prescribed for depression and anxiety disorders, does have side effects, regardless of how it’s used (oral CBD,  Vaping CBD / smoking CBD). While these are relatively minor side effects, they should be noted especially for those who are more sensitive to the chemicals and make up of CBD or other medications. These side effects can include:

  • changes in appetite or weight
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea


The CBD product Epidiolex, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration FDA, brings a warning about the risk of liver problems in people who use it.


Scientists studied Epidiolex in mice in a 2019 study in the journal Molecules. They found that the mice that received higher doses caused liver problems within a day. Although the results of a animal research study may not be directly transmitted to the body, they show that a natural product does not necessarily indicate that it is completely safe in high doses.


Anyone considering the use of CBD should talk to a doctor about existing medications to look for possible interactions. CBD could interact with certain over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements in addition to prescription medications.


Recommended medications that warn against the consumption of grapefruit deserve special care when taking CBD.

How to use CBD

CBD is available in four formulations:

  • Oral CBD: CBD products are available in different formulations, including CBD Capsules, CBD Oral sprays, CBD tinctures (liquids, and oil. These can be used in their original form or added to foods or drinks.)
  • Edible CBD:These are premade products such as drinks and foods, most commonly seen in gummies.
  • Vaping CBD.CBD can be used in vaping as a way to quickly introduce the chemical into the system. However, this comes with the added risk of throat irritation as well as any and all current health and safety concerns with vaping overall.
  • Topical CBD.CBD is also available in beauty products, CBD creams, CBD ointments and CBD lotions. This is most often used for pain.


The most common use of CBD is through oral consumption, through oils or tinctures, or capsules. It’s important to note that it is most effective when used regularly, versus sporadically. While there does not currently appear to be a risk of addition or long-term negative effects of use of CBD, there have been no studies to confirm or refute this.

CBD products are NOT FDA approved for any non-prescription use.

With so many formulations and options out there, it is important to speak with an expert when making your selection regarding CBD products, for your personal needs and situation. You should also verify any claims suggested individually through research.


While Marijuana and other derived products, including CBD, are illegal according to the US Federal Law, individual state laws may allow use and sale. Hemp derived products, including CBD, with less than 0.3% THC are legal according to US Federal Law, but still illegal under some state laws. It is important to research your state laws as well as any laws of states you will be traveling to and through, if you are transporting CBD.