Can CBD aid the ongoing mental health crisis?

The ever-increasing public demand for further information and use of medicinal products derived from the cannabis sativa plant doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

With mental health cases around the world having spiked in the past decade, it’s understandable that many want to know whether the illusive plant may be able to provide relief for the mind.

The rise in mental health issues has been well documented and various causes have been speculated upon – from poverty, abuse, and loneliness to over-reliance on technology, job stress, and social media.

Interestingly, according to a number of influential figures and health professionals, CBD could well be the ideal remedy for many common mental concerns such as anxiety, panic disorders, and even psychosis. There has also been talk of it drastically improving symptoms for those suffering with depression. 

Popular American podcast host Joe Rogan is an avid fan of CBD and claims the compound is one of the best things he’s ever tried for his anxiety.

Talking about his experience taking CBD, he states: “It saves vacations for me, I don’t stress out. CBD oil, I just find it puts you in a great place.”

After claiming that many common over-the-counter medicines are damaging to the body despite helping with things like headaches and pains, he says: “But CBD does that too. It’s better, better for you than all that stuff, seems to be no side effects. The side effect is people think you’re a hippy.”

While common pharmaceuticals prescribed for some mental health conditions work well for patients – and in some cases are absolutely necessary to cope with debilitating mental issues – many constant sufferers are interested in natural alternatives as long-term health is a priority when managing any illnesses.

The rise in anxiety and depression

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK alone will experience a mental health problem, with anxiety, depression, OCD, panic disorders, and PTSD being some of the most reported mental health-related issues.

Additionally, only 1 in 8 individuals experiencing problems in England and Wales are currently receiving treatment, demonstrating that half are living untreated or self-medicating in some way. Many of these people could therefore benefit from a new alternative, as well as those currently taking medication who experience a multitude of side effects often listed in over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

The most prescribed drugs for common mental health issues are beta blockers and SSRIs, most of which have a variety of serious side effects and can cause long-term health issues.

Although generally safe, many antidepressants carry black box warnings – the strictest warning for prescriptions. In some cases, individuals have experienced an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviours after taking them, which can give the impression of trading in one mental issue for another, or merely increasing the negative feelings associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Despite only being used fairly recently for mental illnesses, CBD has very few and rarely occurring side effects, especially in relation to common pharmaceuticals, and it has seemingly improved the quality of life for a number of mental health sufferers.

The cannabidiol cure?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a unique compound derived from the cannabinoids in the hemp plant. It’s also specifically a phytocannabinoid, which helps stimulate the regulation of the central nervous system.

Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that can be found naturally throughout the body. Consequently, CBD enables stimulation of the endocannabinoid system and aids in regulating appetite, mood, sleep, and the immune system.

Serotonin is another naturally occurring compound within the body which mostly affects a person’s emotional state and feelings of happiness. Individuals with depression often experience very low serotonin levels, and balancing serotonin levels is often the key to making positive progress with depression.

CBD appears to have a positive reaction when merged with serotonin receptors in the brain. When the two chemicals bind to their individual receptors, they trigger a chain of events within the brain cells stimulating a process that improves mood and reduces stress levels.

A government-backed report earlier this year found that 50% of millennials would pick CBD oil over prescriptions for mental health. Influenced by the health-conscious trends emerging lately, 30% of people in the UK are wary of reporting their mental health concerns to their doctor as they are apprehensive about being prescribed typical severe medications for their symptoms.

Many have claimed that cannabis-based products are a more natural and easily accessible way to treat their mental health issues.

Cannabis can be harmful

While CBD (the non-psychoactive part of cannabis) is notably positive for mental health, THC (the main ingredient in the cannabis plant) has been known to enhance some mental health issues.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently reported on the impact of cannabis on young people, claiming: “Using cannabis triggers mental health problems in people who seemed to be well before, or it can worsen any mental health problems you already have.”

It also states that there is a grave risk to young adults who are still developing physically and mentally. It goes on to reveal that individuals with mental illness sufferers in their families will be at higher risk of developing the same illness after using cannabis, namely depression and schizophrenia.

Curiously, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has removed its page on cannabis and its effects stating that it is currently being updated, possibly to include further information on the derivatives of cannabis.

The importance of regulation

As cannabis seems to be a double-edged sword in regards to mental health, with CBD providing benefits while THC appears detrimental, the need for strong regulatory frameworks is critical.

Companies selling CBD should be penalised for selling products found to contain more than the required trace amounts of THC, as the medicinal benefits could be outweighed by the potential negatives.

Although the reported benefits of CBD have the potential to improve mental health conditions, additional research still needs to be undertaken to determine the correct doses for effective treatment. Those interested should also ensure they purchase products from reputable sources and check the labelling.