By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.
In my article on depression, “When the Golden Years Are Blue” (Feb. 18, 2023), we discussed three “self-help” tips and a fourth tip to go see a doctor if depression persists. If you do, make sure to ask your doctor about CBD. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has become incredibly popular in recent years as an alternative medicine because of its ability to ease pain and cause relaxation.
Some research suggests that CBD can also help with depression and anxiety. And since hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states (see below), more people are becoming educated about it. Many patients are interested in finding more organic remedies, so it’s understandable that interest in CBD is rising. Still, there is much stigma about the compound. This article is my version of a “CBD for Dummies” guide intended to remove this stigma.
WHAT IS CBD?
CBD is an abbreviation for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is a natural substance found in cannabis, also known as marijuana, and also in hemp plants. CBD is an oil extracted from either marijuana or hemp plants. And while hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant species, called cannabis, they are not the same.
Hemp plants are a different cultivar than the marijuana plant, which means that although they’re the same species, the plants grow differently and have different properties. Marijuana is the intoxicating cousin of hemp, and has much higher percentages of THC, the compound responsible for the sensation of “getting high.”
“There’s a misconception that CBD and medical marijuana are the same thing and that’s not the case,” says Dr. Jeffrey Chung, director of the Cedars-Sinai Epilepsy Program. “CBD on its own is not psychoactive.” CBD oil derived from hemp and contained little to no THC. CBD is a compound that can be used to legally treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety and depression.
IS CBD LEGAL?
Yes (kind of). CBD that comes from hemp is legal. In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed and signed into law the Agriculture Improvement Act (also known as the 2018 Farm Bill). This law removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, effectively legalizing CBD if it comes from hemp. Hemp is defined as any part of the cannabis sativa plant with no more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering substance in marijuana. Plants exceeding the 0.3% THC limit are considered marijuana and remain illegal federally under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
HOW DOES CBD WORK?
CBD has been shown in studies to potentially alter serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is involved in emotion regulation, stress, and mood. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants that also work by altering serotonin levels in the brain.
CBD interacts with the receptors in the endocannabinoid network, helping the body manage stressors and promoting homeostasis to achieve a better sense of balance and groundedness. The endocannabinoid system is a major interface between the nervous system, hormone system, and immune system, most notably the nervous system, where CBD can provide relief of pain, anti-inflammatory, better sleep and produce a sense of calm.
COMMON USES OF CBD
Proponents of CBD oil and other CBD products claim that it can be used to treat conditions such as chronic pain, inflammation, migraines, epilepsy, autoimmune diseases, depression, and anxiety. The reported health benefits of CBD cover a variety of conditions. It is most commonly used to treat chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation, and insomnia. Common uses of CBD include support of the body’s ability to deal with stress, insomnia, anxiety, irritable bowel symptoms, decreasing chronic pain, inflammation and even post-workout strains.
CBD FOR DEPRESSION
Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions that can have lasting effects on a person’s health, social life, ability to work, and overall well-being. A doctor may prescribe pharmaceutical drugs to help a person treat or manage depression. Many of these drugs have difficult side effects, such as mood swings, sleeplessness, and sexual dysfunction.
CBD has shown promise in initial studies as a treatment for both depression and anxiety, and it may cause fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs in some people. Serotonin impacts a range of functions in the body, including a person’s emotional state and feelings of well-being or happiness. Keeping serotonin levels balanced is often a key therapy for people with depression. In most studies, CBD appears to have a positive interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain.
The authors in one study found that the compound worked without activating the brain’s endocannabinoid receptors directly, which may indicate that there is less risk of CBD becoming habit-forming, or addictive. Researchers have even studied CBD’s potential to help reduce cravings in people with opioid use disorder (Source: Medical News Today, “Can CBD Help Treat Depression,” April 1, 2019).
In 2020, researchers tested the effects of CBD oil at varying doses across 397 patients with a variety of ailments. Participants with non-cancer pain or mental health-related symptoms experienced significant improvement in anxiety and depression, as well as in their abilities to complete their usual activities. The use of CBD oil suggested significant pain relief in these groups as well.
HOW DO YOU TAKE CBD?
Today, you can find CBD oil in capsules, oil bases for vaporizers, tinctures, food items, and beauty products such as bath bombs or lotions. Without clear FDA guidance, optimal CBD use for anxiety varies from person to person. You may find one method works better for you over another.
CBD oils are the most common way to consume these products. These oils can be placed directly under the tongue or mixed in liquids like tea or coffee. Capsules and edibles are another popular way to take CBD for depression. You can consume CBD in the following forms:
● Oils and tinctures, which come in dropper bottles and are consumed by mouth
● Gummies, which are chewable, sweet and often fruit-flavored
● Sprays, which come in bottles with a nozzle to be sprayed in the mouth
● Capsules, soft-gels or tablets, which are taken individually by mouth like a pill
● Vapes, which heat CBD oil without igniting it, resulting in an inhalable vapor
● Flowers, which are dried hemp plants that are typically ignited and smoked
● Creams and gels, which introduce CBD topically (through the skin)
The experts recommend starting off with smaller doses and gradually increasing as needed. Just like with any other supplement, its effectiveness will change based on factors other than just weight. Your age, metabolism and tolerance to CBD, and the issue you are trying to treat are all important factors that influence how much CBD you should take in order to see results.
Although too much CBD won’t cause any harm, you don’t want to take more than you need and waste your product. Everyone’s body is different when it comes to CBD. Many people need to build up the substance in their system in order to start seeing benefits. If you don’t see results right away, keep up your daily doses for a month and see if anything changes.
DOES CBD HAVE SIDE EFFECTS?
Most people experience no side effects. Rare side effects include lowered blood pressure, sleepiness, dry mouth, and lightheadedness. There can be potential drug interactions, however, when taken with prescription medications. If you take any medications, we recommend consulting your primary care provider before using it.
IS CBD A “GATEWAY DRUG”?
Legalizing cannabis does not increase substance use disorders or use of other illicit drugs, and therefore cannabis is not considered a “gateway drug,” according to a new study from the University of Colorado-Boulder. The study, published on Jan. 5 in Psychological Medicine, said that despite many critics of legalization expressing concerns that cannabis is a gateway drug, research found no changes in illicit drug use after legalization. Instead, it may actually reduce alcohol-related problems.
The World Health Organization deems CBD a safe and generally well-tolerated substance. Studies report very few adverse effects, if any. And since CBD is legal, it’s never been easier to give it a try yourself. CBD is not impairing, meaning it does not cause a “high.” Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. This means there will be no effect on your mind or mental processes. If you wish to avoid any psychoactive effect, consume only CBD products with less than 0.03% THC included in them.
But while CBD may help with pain relief, anxiety and depression, it can interfere with the effects of other medications and can cause side effects. Taking CBD while on other medications may pose a risk, as these substances may interact and cause unwanted effects, such as weight gain, drowsiness, upset stomach and change in appetite. It is best to talk to your physician or psychiatrist before taking these products. There are increasing numbers of medical practitioners with knowledge about the potential benefits and harms of cannabis.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.