In a previous article, we presented research supporting the use of cannabidiol (CBD) as a potential answer to the question of pain management. That research showed positive results in addressing physical ailments that normally require opioids to achieve any measure of relief. But as we all know, not all pain is physical, and with the science of the brain constantly expanding, the use of CBD for mood- and stress-related conditions deserves its own look.
Article at a Glance:
CBD for Mood
- Pain is more than just physical, it is also mental
- Mood is affected by stress, illness, and more
What is Mood?
- Mood is often confused for emotion
- Mood is a prevailing psychological state, and when it leans negative it can have debilitating effects
- Despite stigmas attached to mental health, science has long-since legitimized disorders of the mind
Anxiety & Depression
- Depression impacts how you think, feel, and act
- Depression affects millions of Americans, and as you age you are more susceptible to depression
- Healthy amounts of anxiety can protect you, but large amounts can cause harm
- Anxiety disorder can prove to be just as debilitating as depression
- Studies show depression and anxiety alter the hippocampus, but that region of the brain can recover through neural regeneration
- Unhealthy amounts of stress elevates cortisol in the system, which affects the production of serotonin and other hormones
- Mental pain can manifest as physical pain, and vice-versa
Where CBD Fits Into Mental Health
- Multiple studies show CBD can deliver mental and physical pain relief with minimal side effects
- CBD mimics certain antidepressant properties
- CBD can increase depleted serotonin levels
- CBD protects neurons in the hippocampus
- CBD was shown to reduce anxiety associated with serious conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and in less serious situations like public speaking
- Walgreens announced it will soon sell CBD products in select stores
- A wider range of CBD research is on the horizon
CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabis/hemp compound that is markedly different than its marijuana-high causing counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is the subject of both anecdotal evidence and experiment-based science—both of which expound on the benefits of the compound while marveling at the lack of negative side effects.
But before diving into how psyched we are about this non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid and how it might help the mind, it is important to examine what determines our mood, how it differentiates from emotion, and how stress colors our thoughts.
What Is Mood? The Difference Between Mood and Emotion
When we think about the concept of “mood,” it’s often in the context of feeling either “good” or “bad”— a duality of mood that is influenced by an outside source. For example, your boss gives you a raise, so you are in a “good mood,” or your boss loads you with more work, and, well, you are in a “bad mood.”
But in that specific instance, what is actually being described is emotion, not mood—a common misnomer. Where emotions tend to last minutes and are sparked by a specific situation or person, mood is more of an overarching, general feeling often without an identifiable cause. Moods are also not as urgently intense as emotions—instead, there’s a good chance you aren’t keenly aware of a given mood until later when you find yourself in a quiet moment of self reflection.
And when this prevailing psychological state leans negative—either relatively temporary or habitual—it can have just as much of a devastating effect on our everyday life as any sort of physical pain.
Unfortunately, and painfully so, there is a social stigma attached to dysfunctions of the mind. Often, the sufferer is given worthless advice like “just get over it.” Of course, if they could “just get over it,” they would. Thankfully, science is catching up with our complicated brains. In fact, new research from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) identified a common pattern of brain activity that may be the culprit behind feelings of a “bad mood,” especially in people who suffer from anxiety.
Whereas previous mind studies examining mood would scan a subject’s brain as they viewed upsetting images or listened to sad stories, UCSF monitored natural mood fluctuations over the course of a day to provide insight into the actual mechanisms of underlying mood—thereby linking enigmatic mood swings to specific patterns of brain activity.
Disorders In The Mood: Anxiety & Depression
It would be impossible to talk about mood from an analytical standpoint without analyzing depression and anxiety, two major influences on brain activity. The American Psychiatric Association categorizes depression as a common—and serious—medical illness impacting how you feel, think, and act. It causes feelings of sadness and loss, while damaging the sufferer’s ability to enjoy once beloved activities. The onslaught of constant negativity can lead to both emotional and physical problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2013 and 2016, 8.1 percent of Americans over the age of 20 reported depression in a given two-week period. And women were almost twice as likely as men to have had depression, at 10.4 percent to 5.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the CDC also states that the prevalence of major depression increases with age, from 2.8 percent among people ages 18 to 24, to 4.6 percent for those 46 to 64 years old.
Differing from depression, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress that can actually be beneficial in certain situations, keeping us alert and prepared. Debilitating nervousness and fear are symptomatic of those suffering from anxiety disorders. These illnesses are incredibly common, affecting more than 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, even though such disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9% of people receive treatment. Meanwhile, anxiety disorders come from a complex array of factors, such as genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
As for what physically happens to the brain in cases of depression, anxiety, and other mental states, studies point to neuroplasticity, which is how the brain physically reacts to stimuli, including stress and depression. A specific region of the brain atrophies—or even shrinks—in cases of depression. This region, responsible for memory, learning, and emotion, is known as the hippocampus.
In the realm of good news, the hippocampus can recover, even into adulthood, in that same process of neuroplasticity. We can grow new neurons and form new connections in the brain. This is an example of neural regeneration, and it is the result of antidepressants, and CBD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2013 and 2016, 8.1 percent of Americans over the age of 20 reported depression in a given two-week period.
How Stress Factors Into Mood
Much like anxiety, stress can work to keep us on our toes and safe. Specifically, so-called “good” stress guards us from unpleasant surprises that can cause physical or mental harm. But like most things in life, too much stress is definitely not a good thing. Long bouts of acute or chronic stress is known to elevate the stress hormone cortisol, which is released in response to stress by the adrenal glands as part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. Studies of older persons show there is a link between elevated levels of salivary cortisol and anxiety, which in turn can impair mental function. This association is due to the effects of cortisol on the hippocampus.
When Physical & Mental Pain Merge
Experts say that chronic stress could potentially manifest as physical pain. It is common to feel sad or discouraged after a heart attack, disease diagnosis, or during physical pain management because ailments of the body could land the sufferer in a depressed mental state. As an example, a recent study by the CDC illustrates that adults with arthritis had a higher prevalence of symptoms of anxiety (22.5 percent) and depression (12.1 percent) compared with adults without arthritis.
How CBD Fits In The Mental Health Puzzle
Much like with physical pain, CBD works with your body’s endocannabinoid system, the biological pathway that helps to regulate mood, appetite, memory, and pain. As stated earlier, CBD is the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis and hemp. The other major compound, THC, is still quite illegal in most states. And beyond legality, psychoactive qualities of THC cause the classic “marijuana high,” making mental impairment a foregone conclusion. But CBD doesn’t cause this reaction because it doesn’t bind to the endocannabinoid CB1 brain receptors that act as the gateway to “getting high.”
Instead, CBD is an appealing option for those who desire pain relief—mental and physical—without the mind-altering effects of THC-laden marijuana or some pharmaceutical drugs. As for CBD’s positive impact on mood, anxiety, and other brain states, the science is promising.
In a 2010 study, researchers concluded that CBD displayed antidepressant-like effects on lab mice, mimicking the results of imipramine, a pharmaceutical antidepressant. Those results were replicated in a 2016 study. Also in 2016, another mouse study found that CBD worked to increase depleted levels of serotonin and other mood-altering hormones in a similar manner as anti-depressant medications.
But perhaps most impressive was a 2011 double-blind, randomized clinical trial, which looked at the benefits of CBD for Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder. In this study, volunteers were administered CBD, while another group was given a placebo. The subjects who took CBD “significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance…” while the placebo group actually experienced increased anxiety.
Other studies have also shown CBD to be specifically beneficial for anxiety. A 2015 clinical of CBD conclusively demonstrated the compound’s efficacy in reducing anxiety that was the product of multiple mental disorders, with a marked lack of negative side effects.
As for how CBD is actually beneficial to mood, it’s the same principle that makes it an effective option in treating certain epileptic seizures. CBD safeguards neurons in the hippocampus, the aforementioned region of the brain that atrophies in people with depression.
In a 2010 study, researchers concluded that CBD displayed antidepressant-like effects on lab mice, mimicking the results of imipramine, a pharmaceutical antidepressant.
CBD & The Mind: Where Do We Go From Here?
So much is changing on an almost daily basis with CBD. With more and more anecdotal evidence and scientific research available, CBD’s profile has risen beyond the outskirts of supplementation and gained traction with mainstream companies.
While more research is needed to learn the full extent of CBD’s benefit to mood and our mental state in general, it's apparent that we are in the midst of a major sea change for this cannabis/hemp compound—which means that such research is much more than merely a pipe dream.