Cannabidiol (CBD) in the Self-Treatment of Depression-Exploratory Study and a New Phenomenon of Concern for Psychiatrists This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabis compound that has generated interest for the relief of symptoms of depression. Learn how it's used and if it works. CBD oil has become popular to treat anxiety & depression, but does it work? Learn about the pros & cons of this alternative treatment.
Cannabidiol (CBD) in the Self-Treatment of Depression-Exploratory Study and a New Phenomenon of Concern for Psychiatrists
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The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
Cannabis sativa, whose flowers are also known as marijuana or marihuana, is a recreational plant that contains many chemicals that are constantly being studied by scientists around the world. One of these substances is cannabidiol (CBD), which has gained widespread popularity on the internet as a cure for mental health problems, leading many people to use CBD to self-treat depression and anxiety. This article presents an exploratory cohort study (n = 90) of a group of people aged 16–69 using CBD to self-heal depression symptoms. The survey included basic sociodemographic questionnaire and validated Hospital Depression and Anxiety Scale. And was distributed via the Internet. The results were statistically analyzed. High school degree was the most commonly held education (46%), large city was the most popular place of living (33%) and majority of the respondents have a full-time job (53%). Only 19% of the respondents consult their doctor or pharmacists about taking CBD. On the group of psychiatric patients, only 49% of respondents tell their psychiatrist about using the compound. Psychiatrists should be aware of CBD use in their patients during their daily practice, as CBD use can be found within people from all walks of life, and due to public interest, there is a need for education and research on the efficacy and safety of CBD use for mental disorders.
Cannabis sativa, commonly known as marijuana or marihuana, is a plant with psychoactive properties used primarily for recreational purposes. However, in recent years, numerous studies have been conducted that have found its beneficial effects in the treatment of many diseases (1). Marijuana-derived compounds, known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antinecrotic properties, are considered promising agents that are increasingly used in research related to Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, as well as in the treatment of chronic pain (2–4). The substances contained in marijuana are called cannabinoid com-pounds. The most potent constituent of cannabis is natural tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive properties of marijuana (1). Among other compounds, one is especially notable–cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound which could be useful in depression treatment, as the studies have demon-strated the activity of CBD as a partial agonist of 5HT1a serotonin receptors, which could be beneficial in the treatment of depression and anxiety by using this substance, but this still requires extensive research (5).
CBD appears to be relatively safe substance in preliminary studies, but there are several side effects that should be mentioned. CBD is one of the better tolerated substances compared to THC, mainly due to its lower addictive potential (6). In the available literature, the adverse effects described mainly refer to studies in animal models and depend on the dose taken and the duration of use. The use of CBD in animals resulted in the development of drug toxicity, increased fetal mortality, liver cell damage, inhibition of spermatogenesis, and hypotension, but it should be mentioned that the doses used in animals were above the recommended amounts for humans (7). The most common side effects reported in studies of cannabinoid use for epilepsy or psychotic disorders were fatigue, diarrhea, and appetite disturbances (8). Other side effects reported after CBD use included vomiting, insomnia, and hepatologic disorders. Nonetheless, in certain conditions CBD could be dangerous, as it is metabolized in the liver with the involvement of CYP3A4, which affects its interactions with many drugs that are also processed with the involvement of this enzyme system (including anti-fungals, clarithromycin, or rifampicin) (7).
The public is very interested in natural methods to treat depression. Scientists are focusing on the study of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic substance found in many plants, and psilocybin, a psychedelic that occurs naturally in mushrooms such as psilocybin cubensis (9). The popularity of CBD in the treatment of depression is as great in society as the popularity of the use of DMT or psilocybin-on October 15, 2021, the Google search engine returns 6,370,000 results for the term “CBD depression treatment,” and information on this topic can be found on such well-known websites as the New York Times or Forbes (10, 11). Despite the great popularity that the use of CBD for depression enjoys on the Internet, in our opinion, the scientific data on the efficacy and safety of this substance in the treatment of depression remain sparse. It is not difficult to find groups on social media (e.g., Facebook) where experiences are shared about the use of CBD for self-care for mental health and where people (often without medical training) recommend certain products from the Internet along with dosage. Self-care for mental health has its limits, and that is when patients turn to supplements and products purchased online without the knowledge of their doctor, as this is potentially dangerous. There are documented over-the-counter uses of St. John’s wort in combination with serotonin reuptake inhibitors that resulted in the development of serotonin syndrome (12). Because we do not know much about CBD, we believe that people who use CBD to self-medicate should be closely monitored. We were unable to find appropriate studies describing this phenomenon in any disease, although previous literature suggests that self-medication with CBD exists for chronic pain, anxiety, and depression (13). In our opinion, the availability of CBD on the retail market is disproportionate to the number of scientific reports on the efficacy and safety of CBD, because in many European countries such as Austria, Spain, Sweden, Germany or France you can easily buy CBD legally (14). This situation is potentially dangerous from a medical perspective for both patients and medical staff, as people risk potentially treacherous intoxication by searching social media for unverified data on the ingestion of rather unknown substances. Therefore, as a group of psychiatrists, we decided to investigate the problematic phenomenon of using CBD to self-treat depressive symptoms, as it is important to learn more about the people who choose to do so. We aimed to explore the basic demographic and epidemiological characteristics of people who use CBD to self-treat their depressive disorders and to demonstrate the fact that this phenomenon exists. The study was exploratory in nature, therefore we did not rise any particular research questions.
Materials and Methods
The study was designed by psychiatrists from the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice and was conducted according to the guide-lines of the Declaration of Helsinki and Good Clinical Practice. It included 23 questions in Polish in the areas of: general sociodemographic parameters, general psychiatric interview of patients, questions related to CBD intake: frequency, dosage and form of consumption, improvement of wellbeing after CBD intake and additionally included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) questionnaire. The HADS is one of the most widely used self-assessment questionnaires for screening anxiety/depression symptoms and focuses mainly on the cognitive and psychological aspects. It is used in both the general medical population and the healthy population. The HADS consists of a total of 14 items on 2 separate subscales: Anxiety (HADS-A) and Depression (HADS-D), and the total score ranges from 0 to 42 points. Currently, the categorization system includes several groups: 0–7, normal; 8–10, mild; 11–15, moderate; over 16, severe (15). The survey was uploaded to the Internet via Google Forms, Google’s original online survey tool. The form consisted of 5 separate pages-consent to the study, questions about demographic data, questions about previous psychiatric treatment, questions about CBD use, and the HADS questionnaire. Data were collected via Facebook from August 27, 2021 to September 16, 2021. We asked administrators of depression, mental illness, and CBD use groups and websites to help us collect data, and they actively provided a link to the form on their websites, therefore we could not estimate the amount of people who received the link to the survey. Incomplete questionnaires were rejected. To ensure complete anonymity, as marihuana is still generally a taboo subject, no personal or contact information was collected, including email addresses or IP addresses that would identify respondents. For that reason, we had to avoid sampling methods that would be normally used in such study. We had to avoid using data collection enhancement methods, as they would require us to use more complex technical methods that would not allow data anonymization. Participation in the survey was voluntary, respondents were informed of the purpose of the survey and were required to answer in the affirmative to the first question “I use CBD oil to improve symptoms of depression and agree to participate in this anonymous study (or as a minor, I have the consent of my legal guardian to participate),” otherwise they were not given access to the questionnaire. Ninety seven responses were collected, of which 7 subjects, after reading the manual, did not agree to submit their anonymous responses to analysis.
The collected data were analyzed using STATISTICA 13.0 software (StatSoft, Kraków, Poland). Qualitative variables were tested using the chi-square test. The Shapiro-Wilk test was used to check whether quantitative variables conformed to the normal distribution. The test revealed that not all variables conformed to the normal distribution. In case of non-normal distribution, Mann-Whitney U test was used to compare two independent groups, while Kruskal-Wallis test was used to compare multiple independent samples. Spearman’s rank order correlation test was used to test the relationship between the variables. Statistical significance was assumed at p < 0.05.
We collected 90 correctly completed questionnaires from the respondents. The study comprised a group of males and females of comparable size who did not differ significantly in age, education and type of occupation. One person reported being non-binary and was excluded from the statistical analysis. The youngest respondent was 16 years old and the oldest was 69 years old. High school degree was the most commonly held education (46%), large city was the most popular place of living (33%) and majority of the respondents have a full-time job (53%). Majority of the respondents claim that they either trust or probably trust the psychiatrists. The detailed characteristics of the study population are shown in Table 1 . There is no difference in trust in psychiatrists between the groups. Respondents’ place of residence differs between gender groups, but the significance level is borderline, which could be tested if a larger sample of respondents were used.
|Education||High school degree||46%||43%||50%|
|Higher bachelor’s degree or equivalent||14%||14%||15%|
|Higher masters or equivalent||30%||33%||27%|
|Doctorate or higher academic title||1%||2%||0%|
|Place of living||Village||21%||26%||17%|
|Small town (up to 50,000 inhabitants)||21%||12%||29%|
|Medium-sized city (from 50,000 to 200,000 inhabitants)||25%||19%||29%|
|A large city (over 200,000 inhabitants)||33%||43%||25%|
|Type of work||Full-time job||53%||50%||54%|
|Another form of employment||10%||10%||10%|
|Do you trust psychiatrists?||Definitely not||6%||2%||8%|
Majority of the respondents were or still are treated by a psychiatrist (55%) and started using CBD for depressed mood (69%). The most commonly consumed other psychoactive substance was caffeine (47%). Only 19% of respondents consulted a doctor or pharmacists about taking CBD, and most respondents (59%) consume CBD daily. Majority of the respondents (57%) are currently under the supervision of a psychiatrist and a little over half (51%) do not tell their psychiatrists about their use of CBD. Majority of respondents said they felt better after CBD treatment (86%). The detailed characteristics of CBD use for self-treatment of mental disorders are shown in Table 2 .
CBD consumption characteristics.
|Have you ever been diagnosed / diagnosed or treated / treated by a psychiatrist?||Yes||55%||40%||67%|
|Answers only from the group of people who have ever been diagnosed or treated by a psychiatrist (n = 50)||Why did you receive psychiatric treatment?||Anxiety disorders||76%||94%||66%|
|Bipolar affective disorder||4%||0%||6%|
|Does your psychiatrist know you are taking CBD?||Yes||49%||47%||50%|
|Are you undergoing psychiatric treatment right now?||Yes||57%||41%||66%|
|Why did you start to use CBD?||Depressed mood||69%||74%||65%|
|Problems with concentration||40%||33%||46%|
|What other psychoactive substances are you using?||Caffeine||47%||55%||40%|
|Where did you first heard of CBD?||Internet||62%||76%||50%|
|Have you consulted CBD consumption with a doctor or a pharmacist?||Yes||19%||14%||23%|
|Where do you buy CBD most often?||Online shop||66%||67%||65%|
|What form do you most often consume CBD?||CBD oil||73%||62%||83%|
|Pure CBD in the form of a spray||1%||0%||2%|
|How often do you consume CBD?||Every day||59%||60%||58%|
|A few times a week||22%||21%||23%|
|Several times a month||13%||10%||17%|
|Several times a year||4%||7%||2%|
|Do you usually measure the same doses of CBD?||No, I’m not measuring my doses||38%||43%||33%|
|Yes, 1–50 milligrams a day||39%||33%||44%|
|Yes, 51 to 100 milligrams a day||9%||10%||8%|
|Yes, 101 to 150 milligrams a day||9%||10%||8%|
|Yes, 151 to 200 milligrams a day||3%||5%||2%|
|More than 200 milligrams a day||2%||0%||4%|
Women were more likely to be diagnosed or treated by a psychiatrist compared to men (χ 2 =; 6.19 p = 0.01; chi-square test). Among the psychiatric disorders treated, men were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders (χ 2 = 4.87; p = 0.027; chi-square test). No significant difference was found between genders for the other disorders. Women were significantly more likely than men to take CBD due to insomnia (χ 2 = 5.07; p = 0.024) and energy depletion (χ 2 = 3.72; p = 0.05 (borderline); chi-square test). Men were significantly more likely than women to use THC (χ 2 = 5; p = 0.025) and alcohol (χ 2 = 7.06; p = 0.008 chi-square test).
Men were significantly more likely than women to learn about CBD from the Internet, while women learned from friends and family (χ 2 = 8.61; p = 0.04 chi-square test). Respondents most frequently purchased CBD from online stores, while the most common form of CBD consumption was CBD oil, which was significantly more frequently consumed by women (χ 2 = 7.12; p = 0.03 chi-square test).
Majority of the respondents (53%) claim that CBD made them feel overall better and 88% of the respondents would more likely take CBD than a prescription drug from a psychiatrist. Table 3 shows detailed psychiatric outcome analysis for respondents using CBD.
Assessment of CBD effects on mental health of respondents.
|Did CBD make you feel overall better?||Definitely not||6%||7%||4%|
|With your current knowledge, would you be more likely to take CBD or prescription drugs from a psychiatrist?||Prescription drugs||12%||64%||36%|
|HADS categories in anxiety subscale||Normal||31%||43%||21%|
|HADS categories in depression subscale||Normal||53%||52%||54%|
Out of respondents who are or were treated by a psychiatrist, the most commonly drugs prescribed were selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (16%). Table 4 shows which prescription medications were or are being taken by respondents. Greater improvement in wellbeing was reported by younger respondents (r = −0.22; p < 0.02; Spearman's rank-order correlation). There was no correlation between reported improvement in wellbeing after CBD use and: (1) frequency of CBD use, (2) amount of CBD dose taken, or (3) form of CBD use.
Psychiatric medications taken by respondents.
|Medications taken by respondents in the past||Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors||16%|
|Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors||12%|
|Monoamine oxidase inhibitors||2%|
|I do not remember the names||16%|
|I have never received any prescription drugs from my psychiatrist||7%|
|Medications currently taken by respondents||Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors||8%|
|Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors||8%|
|I am currently not using any prescription drugs||38%|
Under the HADS Anxiety subscale, 69% of respondents qualified for the group that exceeded the norm criteria (score > 7 points), while in the case of the HADS sub-scale, 47% exceeded this cut-off point.
93% of the respondents did not observe any negative effects of CBD consumption. Two respondents reported the occurrence of anxiety disorders during therapy, while 1 respondent reported the following symptoms: depressed mood, addiction, diarrhea, xerostomia.
Only 17% of respondents reported that they were currently taking psychotropic drugs. This group is too small to perform a statistical analysis using the above statistical tests. 49% of respondents admit to having taken the above drugs in their lifetime. Individuals who admit to taking psychotropic drugs in the past are significantly more likely to trust psychiatrists (p < 0.0001; Mann Whitney U test).
The path to the use of CBD in psychiatry is partially clear, as CBD has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a drug for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy, suggesting that the compound has a satisfactory long-term safety profile for this neurological condition (16). Data on the benefits of CBD in reducing the severity of depressive symptoms and anxiety are limited but promising. Some studies show that CBD is useful in treating depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and even problematic cannabis use, as well as in reducing the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, with little to no side effects such as diarrhea, which decreased over time (17, 18). Clinical studies are also encouraged by the authors of publications summarizing the achievements of science in the field of CBD use in psychiatry. They point out that studies in larger groups of people are necessary not only to determine the safety and usefulness of the substances in psychiatric treatment, but also to determine the efficacy of the treatment in the context of differences in symptoms of gender disorders, since most clinical trials have been conducted mainly in men (19, 20). There is still too many question marks to not monitor people who use CBD on their own. The situation in which patients decide to self-medicate their symptoms with a drug for which there is, for the time being, limited evidence of efficacy and safety is potentially dangerous because, apart from the side effects, such actions may worsen their mental state through the natural progression of depressive disorders, especially since some respondents choose to take more than CBD, including THC or hallucinogens, which may not be neutral among respondents.
The survey involved people of different ages (both minors and retirees), with different levels of education, and living in both rural and urban communities, which means that the use of CBD for self-treatment of depression is not limited to certain social groups. This information may be useful in further planning of scientific and educational activities in this area.
When analyzing the above responses, it should first be noted that only 19% of respondents consulted their doctor or pharmacist about taking CBD. At the same time, in the group of psychiatric patients, only 49% of respondents informed their psychiatrist about the use of CBD during psychiatric treatment. This situation is potentially dangerous because when patients buy CBD outside the pharmacy, this sale escapes the control of the pharmaceutical regulatory authority, which may encourage the accidental ingestion of other substances than intended, because when sales are outside the control of pharmaceutical regulators, consumers need to trust the honesty of the sellers. The situation of physicians and pharmacists being informed by the patient of the use of a psychoactive substance that is not an approved drug for the condition being treated is also extremely difficult. Categorical prohibition is unlikely to be effective, but it will limit the patient’s honesty at subsequent visits, and acceptance of this state of affairs means that the patient accepts responsibility-at least in part – for the possible adverse effects of taking a psychoactive substance. The situation of physicians and pharmacists will not improve until they have accurate knowledge of the effects of CBD in various clinical situations and of interactions with the most common psychotropic drugs. There is an urgent need to complete this knowledge.
An important element in the mystery of the CBD phenomenon is the chemical composition of the oil itself or the dried fruit you buy. You should keep in mind that in addition to CBD and other cannabinoids, there are substances from other chemical groups, such as terpenoids, flavonoids, and alkaloids. It is possible that these substances may have an impact on the patient’s wellbeing (21). It is important to know this because a possible complex antidepressant effect of Cannabis sativa- derived substances cannot be excluded. Research suggests that CB1 and CB2 receptors are associated with depression and bipolar disorder, and a single nucleotide polymorphism in the CB1 receptor has been observed in patients with treatment-resistant depression (22). CBD is an agonist of the 5HT-1A receptor, which in combination with its action on cannabinoid receptors may lead to a new unique effect (5).
As mentioned in the introduction, the media is eagerly interested in the topic of using CBD to treat depression, and society is picking up on the topic in social media. In public discourse, healthcare professionals should stick to facts. There is not enough data to conclusively confirm or rule out the claim that CBD is useful in treating mental illness. Given the social aspect of CBD use, further research by interdisciplinary teams made up of psychiatrists and pharmacists seems well warranted.
The responses collected shed light on another aspect. When planning further research on the use of CBD to improve symptoms of depressive disorders, it is important to pay attention to validated instruments that help in the diagnosis of depression. The responses to the question about reasons for starting CBD use may suggest that although we asked about self-treatment of depression, and this was clearly explained in the survey instructions and in the first question, some of the public may not fully understand the nature of this disorder. Patients could be suffering from major depressive disorder or mixed depression-anxiety disorder, and since it makes a difference in terms of the proper medical solutions offered byphysicians, it may not make a difference to patients. They might just call both disorders “depression,” whereas according to our HADS-A and HADS-D results, anxiety is actually more prevalent in our study group. Differentiating the causes of depressive disorders on the basis of the currently used International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems will make it possible to reduce methodological errors, contribute to a more rapid resolution of scientific problems and avoid inaccuracy in providing data to other scientists.
This study is probably the only study to examine the extent of self-treatment of depression with CBD, but it is not free of limitations. The data was collected during COVID-19 pandemic, which could have an impact on the respondents wellbeing in terms of depressive and anxiety symptoms. Due to anonymity of the study, the study was anonymous and was not prospective, therefore, we could not explain if CBD actually helps people who use the substance. The survey was conducted over the Internet, which limits the ability to rule out respondent error in completing the survey and prevents intentional bias from being ruled out. A small group of respondents does not allow for indepth statistical analysis and it is not necessarily representative for the population; furthermore, the selection of the group depends on activity on the Internet. However, the exploratory nature of this study provides solid justification for further research and analysis in this area.
Psychiatrists should be aware of CBD use in their patients during their daily practice, as CBD use can be found within people from all walks of life for self-treatment of depression due to depressed mood. Due to public interest, there is a need for education and research on the efficacy and safety of CBD use for mental disorders.
Data Availability Statement
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
Ethical review and approval was not required for the study on human participants in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. Written informed consent from the participants’ legal guardian/next of kin was not required to participate in this study in accordance with the national legislation and the institutional requirements.
GW: conceptualization, project administration, and visualization. GW and MS: methodology and software. GW and RP: validation and writing—review and editing. GW, IS, and MS: formal analysis, investigation, and writing—original draft preparation. GW and IS: resources. MS: data curation. PG and RP: supervision. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
The authors would like to thank Kombinat Konopny, HempNation, Dr. Konopny Siedlce, and Depresja, Stany Lekowe, Ataki Paniki, Fobie. Grupa integracyjna. Facebook group for making their networking channels available so the authors could collect the data.
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Can CBD Help With Depression?
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Interest in the potential mental health uses of cannabidiol (CBD) has grown tremendously in recent years, including the use of CBD for depression. CBD is a chemical compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana or hemp.
Cannabis contains more than 80 compounds, known as cannabinoids. The main cannabinoid that most people are more familiar with is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive substance that produces the “high” characteristic of marijuana.
CBD, on the other hand, is purported to have a wide range of health benefits without these psychoactive effects. Some research suggests that CBD has antidepressant-like effects, which means it may hold promise in alleviating symptoms of depression.
Despite claims about CBD’s purported mental health benefits, it is important to understand that the research on its use is still limited. There have been studies done, but many of these have limitations and further research is needed in order to fully understand CBD’s therapeutic potential.
Research suggests that CBD has antidepressant effects, although it is important to note that many of these are animal studies.
Other studies suggest that CBD may help alleviate symptoms of depression by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in a range of functions in the body including the regulation of mood. It may help contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being. It is also often implicated in the onset of depression and many types of antidepressant drugs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
One study published in 2018 suggested that cannabidiol does not increase serotonin levels; rather, it appears to work by influencing how the brain responds to serotonin that is already there.
Another study found that CBD had a “clear anti-stress effect,” which might play a role in reducing stress levels that contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
How It’s Taken
Cannabidiol is available in several different forms, although only those that are ingested are likely to produce any antidepressant-like effects or other mental health benefits. It may be taken orally as an oil, spray, or capsule. CBD may also be added to edible products including beverages, candies, or chewable gummies.
CBD can also be used topically in creams, salves, lotions, and balms, although it is likely to only produce localized effects in this form. E-liquids that are inhaled via vaping are also available, though vaping comes with its own risks.
It is also important to note that CBD is available in isolate (only CBD), broad-spectrum (contains other cannabinoids but not THC), and full-spectrum (contains other cannabinoids, including THC).
Possible Side Effects
Most of the available research suggests that CBD is generally well-tolerated and produces few side effects. However, this does not mean that people may not experience any unwanted side effects, which may include:
- Appetite changes
- Mood changes
- Elevated liver enzymes
According to the World Health Organization, the available evidence suggests that CBD is relatively safe. However, the long-term effects are not entirely clear.
One of the biggest concerns that consumers face when purchasing CBD products is the lack of FDA regulation.
CBD products are not subject to regulation because they are marketed as supplements, which means that you don’t know if you are really getting what is described on the label. Because these products are not regulated, you have no way of knowing for sure what you are getting in terms of purity, safety, and dosage.
- One study found that a whopping 70% of CBD products sold online were mislabeled, with many containing much more THC than the packaging claimed. So while many CBD products are labeled as not containing THC, many do contain significant amounts. This could potentially result in a positive result on a drug test. This is a major concern, particularly if you want to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC.
- Another study found that CBD products may also contain potentially dangerous chemicals and medications, including synthetic cannabinoids and cough medicine. Such contamination could lead to health problems including allergic reactions or drug interactions.
CBD vs. Antidepressants
So how does CBD compare to traditional antidepressants? True comparisons of the effects are not yet possible simply because there is not enough research on CBD’s effects.
However, one animal study suggests that CBD might have some possible benefits by comparison:
- A 2018 study published in Molecular Neurobiology concluded that CBD had promise as a fast-acting antidepressant drug. While traditional antidepressant drugs typically take some time to begin working, research on rodents found that CBD showed rapid and sustained antidepressant-like effects.
- CBD also appears to have relatively few side effects. Antidepressant drugs may sometimes cause things such as appetite changes and sexual side effects.
CBD holds promise, but that does not mean that you should turn to cannabidiol products over traditional treatments for depression.
A Word From Verywell
The bottom line when it comes to CBD’s potential as a treatment for depression is that more research is needed. Most of the evidence supporting CBD’s antidepressant effects comes from animal studies or small trials, and one of the largest reviews of the research found that the available evidence is not strong enough to recommend CBD as a treatment for depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Depression may worsen over time if left untreated, but there are effective treatments available including psychotherapy and medications.
If you are interested in using CBD to alleviate symptoms of depression in conjunction with other treatments, always talk to your doctor first about how to use it and about any possible medication interactions.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Sales AJ, Crestani CC, Guimarães FS, Joca SRL. Antidepressant-like effect induced by Cannabidiol is dependent on brain serotonin levels. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018;86:255‐261. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.06.002
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Black N, Stockings E, Campbell G, Tran LT, Zagic D, Hall WD, et al. Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2019;6(112):P995-1010. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30401-8
By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
CBD Oil for Anxiety & Depression: The Pros & Cons
Everyone’s talking about it, so we’re here to help you weigh up the pros and cons, without bias.
The pros & cons of taking CBD oil:
1. Depression & Anxiety
With symptoms like excessive worry, extreme self-consciousness, chest pain, and panic attacks, anxiety can be a debilitating condition. Depression can be equally destructive—feeling sad, with little interest in the activities you once enjoyed.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of options for treating anxiety and depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are popular, but they come with a host of side effects. Others have the risk of addiction.
Many people search for a safer, more natural way to treat anxiety and depression, so new options are being developed and researched all the time.
One emerging treatment is CBD oil. It’s becoming more popular with each passing day, but there are still major questions about how effective it is at treating anxiety and depression—and how exactly it helps.
As a fairly new and little-understood product, it’s important to learn as much as you can about CBD oil for anxiety and depression—and speak to your mental health provider—before you decide to try it.
2. What Is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a type of cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are chemicals that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. Cannabidiol is extracted from the plant and made into an oil.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is another type of cannabinoid. It’s the chemical responsible for the “high” one feels after using marijuana. Because CBD is not THC, you cannot get high from using CBD oil.
CBD oil is suggested to have positive effects for people with:
- and other mental health disorders
- in addition to depression and anxiety
- Studies have shown inconclusive results for most of these uses, with the exceptions of epilepsy, anxiety, and depression
3. How Does CBD Oil Work?
CBD oil for depression and anxiety is still being studied and doesn’t have as much research to back it up as many other treatments do. Make sure you talk to your doctor about whether it’s a good fit for you and how to incorporate it into your treatment plan.
4. CBD for anxiety
It isn’t known exactly how CBD oil combats anxiety, but it’s thought to work with a receptor in your brain called CB1. Researchers believe the interactions between CBD oil and CB1 alter serotonin signals.
The core problem at the heart of anxiety disorders is low serotonin—a neurotransmitter related to mood and well-being. SSRIs, for instance, work by blocking the absorption of serotonin in your brain, meaning you get more serotonin. CBD oil may do something similar.
Studies have shown that CBD oil can be effective in treating various types of anxiety, including:
- Social anxiety disorder (PTSD)
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety and physiological symptoms of anxiety, like rapid heartbeat, were reduced in some studies. It’s also been shown to be effective against anxiety-related insomnia.
5. CBD for Depression
CBD oil works similarly for people suffering from depression because depression happens when serotonin levels are low. Increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain has a positive effect on your emotions and motor skills.
CBD oil may also affect the hippocampus, which plays a large role in regulating your emotions. When you have depression, your hippocampus doesn’t function as well. CBD oil may help promote neurogenesis or the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus.
6. How to use CBD
You take CBD oil by either putting a few drops under your tongue with a dropper or mixing it with food. CBD gummies are also becoming popular.
7.Disadvantages of CBD Oil
While CBD oil for anxiety and depression holds promise, there are significant disadvantages to its use.
First, it isn’t widely available. You can only buy CBD oil in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Second, no CBD oil products are approved by the FDA for the treatment of anxiety or depressive disorders. Only one CBD oil product is FDA-approved, and that is for the treatment of epilepsy.
Without the oversight and regulation of the FDA, CBD oils vary widely in quality. Manufacturers can more or less put whatever they want on labels.
According to Marcel Bonn-Miller, adjunct assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 43% of CBD oil products contain too little CBD, while about 26% contain too much.
Due to its lack of regulation, approximately one in five CBD products contain THC, meaning they could give you a high. THC can increase anxiety instead of reducing it. The additional risk in taking CBD oil is that even if the product contains trace amounts of THC, you could still test positive for marijuana on a drug test.
Quality CBD oil is considered safe, but it does come with a few side effects.
- Dry mouth
- Sleeping problems
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
More concerning than these side effects is the potential harm CBD oil can inflict on your liver. About 10% of people taking CBD in studies showed increases in liver enzymes. This increase could indicate potential liver damage. These concerns were severe enough for 2% to 3% of participants in the study to drop out due to concerns from the people running the study.
There is also the potential for dangerous drug interactions when taking CBD oil with another medication. If you are taking an antidepressant or any other medications, be sure to consult with your doctor before taking CBD oil.
8. Other Alternative Anxiety & Depression Treatments
Although CBD oil as a treatment for anxiety disorders and depression is a potentially viable option, there are alternative treatments—besides medication—that are safe and effective.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is one such treatment. It offers hope for patients with anxiety disorders by restoring the neurons in the amygdala—the part of your brain involved in the fight-or-flight response—to a normal level of functioning. In those with depression, TMS stimulates the thalamus and hippocampus, which work to control the brain’s emotional responses.
TMS does this by stimulating your brain using electromagnetic pulses. It has very few side effects, and results can be felt in just two weeks.
Explore TMS side effects
Many people are searching for natural treatments for anxiety and depression, and it isn’t hard to see why.
It’s always a good idea to be open-minded to new treatments, especially when there is clinical evidence to back them up. The most important things to do are conduct thorough research and discuss any options you’re considering with your doctor.