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CBD and Serotonin: A Powerful Combination

Depression and anxiety affect tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people around the world. According to one statistic, over 40 million adults in the US alone (about 18% of the adult population) state that they suffer from one of these conditions. Many of those adults are prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft or benzodiazepine tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax.

The question we’re looking into is whether CBD could also be an effective treatment for anxiety or depression or both. Let’s start with the basics.

CBD and Your Endocannabinoid System

At its most basic level, the effects of CBD are the result of its interaction with your body’s endocannabinoid system. I know what you’re thinking, “the what system?” That response is understandable because most of us grow up and even live our whole lives without ever learning about this vital body system.

In a nutshell, the endocannabinoid system is a crucial biochemical communication system in your body. It plays a critical role in regulating our physiology, mood, and everyday experience. The health benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids result from them tapping into this system and triggering cannabinoid receptors existing within the body. These receptors then stimulate changes, many of which result in positive health effects and which are extremely beneficial for the body.

CBD and Serotonin

The extent of CBD’s interaction with your body does not end at the endocannabinoid system proper, however. As the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors are deeply intertwined with your nervous system and its related subsystems, CBD and its effects may have far-reaching implications for all areas of health.

For example, there’s mounting evidence that CBD interacts intimately with your body’s serotonergic system—the system of serotonin neurotransmitters. This system works to regulate mood, nausea, appetite, bone health, sleep, emotions, and even sexual function.

The interesting thing is that cannabinoid receptors are found on serotonin neurons, and they're also visible in the corresponding inhibitory receptors. Specifically, CBD is thought to interact with 5-HT1a receptors that control serotonin levels in the brain and body. This leads to the conclusion that cannabinoids may increase serotonin levels in certain conditions, and reduce them in others, providing the balance necessary for proper health.

The ability of CBD to bind with these different types of receptors, as well as the important and diverse role serotonin plays in the human body, can explain a wide range of effects that could potentially be attributed to the special relationship between CBD and serotonin. As you may have noted, the body functions that are regulated by the serotonin and endocannabinoid systems overlap greatly.

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CBD and Depression

Deficiency in serotonin is linked to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. That’s the reason why drugs aimed at combatting these disorders are often specifically aimed at boosting serotonin, or otherwise preventing its abnormal depletion. The problem with a lot of the drugs typically prescribed, however, is they can often be highly addictive, cause patients to experience strong side effects, or don’t produce much improvement in the condition.

As this article lays out, there have been numerous animal studies and mounting evidence from human experimental, clinical, and epidemiological studies that suggest CBD has powerful anti-depression properties. When administered as needed, it appears safe, well-tolerated, and may be beneficial to treat a number of depression and anxiety-related disorders, including:

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Social phobia
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Mild to moderate depression

Similar to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft, CBD is thought to boost signaling through serotonin receptors, specifically the 5-HT1A receptor. In an animal study, Spanish researchers found that CBD enhances 5-HT1A transmission and may affect serotonin faster than SSRIs.

Another study using mice found that repeated administration of CBD may help the hippocampus region of the brain regenerate neurons, which could be useful for treating anxiety or depression. Research shows both SSRIs and CBD may promote neurogenesis, the growth and development of nervous tissue.

Conclusion

Essentially where we are at now is that the limited studies and evidence point towards CBD possibly having similar effects on serotonin (and the related anxiety and depression symptoms) as mainstream drugs. Much more study is needed to be able to say anything definitively, but, because of the absence of apparent side effects, there’s no harm in supplementing existing treatment and seeing if CBD works better for you. However, if you are prescribed medication then it is probably best to consult your doctor first, before trying anything new.

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