Cannabinoids for depression and anxiety

Clinical depression and anxiety disorders are among the most serious health problems worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about five percent of the world’s adult population suffers from depression – women are affected more frequently than men [1]. This number increases many times over if affected children and adolescents are included, as well as people who are not receiving medical treatment. The Corona pandemic has further promoted depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders: According to the World Health Organization, rates increased by 25 percent in the first Corona year. Young people and women are particularly affected [2]. 

Studies provide indications for the efficacy of medical cannabis, especially CBD, for both diagnoses: depression and anxiety. Thus, cannabinoids could be a complementary therapeutic measure. 

How are depression and anxiety treated? 

Depression and anxiety disorders are independent syndromes, but often occur in mixed forms: The boundaries between an anxiety disorder with intermittent dejection and depression, in which severe anxiety occurs, are fluid. 

Therapy also shows similarities and consists mainly of psychotherapy, further therapeutic measures such as occupational or exercise therapy and, in more severe cases, drug treatment. The latter mainly involves the use of medications such as antidepressants. 

Mode of action of antidepressants

According to current science, antidepressants interfere with brain metabolism. The exact mode of action has not yet been clarified. Experts assume that the active substances act on the body’s own neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine and “correct” the chemical imbalance that prevails in mental disorders. In most cases, it is not possible to clearly predict which medication is appropriate for the individual sufferer. The search for an individually suitable antidepressant is therefore often like looking for a needle in a haystack. Unfortunately, antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects, especially at the beginning of their use, which often lead to premature discontinuation of therapy [3]. 

Medical cannabis for depression and anxiety: A look at the history 

The use of pharmaceutical cannabis for mental disorders is not new: Already the pharmacist Li Shih-Chen (1518-1593) described the positive effect of the hemp plant for so-called “nervous disorders”. In the 19th century, cannabis was even considered a panacea for physical and mental ailments of all kinds [4]. Unfortunately, the assumption that the active ingredients of the hemp plant generally increase the risk of mental illness later prevailed – among other things due to the anti-cannabis hate campaign of the US government after prohibition in the 1920s. 

Cannabinoids as a therapeutic option

Recent studies have focused on the efficacy of cannabinoids in mental illness. In particular, cannabidiol (CBD) is attracting the interest of researchers. However, large-scale studies are lacking so far.

CBD seems to have an antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect

The author team of a review paper, highlighting the state of research on anxiety disorders and depression, summarized the available studies positively: “Our results suggest that CBD may be a potential therapy for treating anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and related psychotic disorders.” [5]

Medical cannabis: depressive symptoms and anxiety significantly improved

A recent study from Canada shows the positive influence of medical cannabis on clinical depression and anxiety disorders: After one year of therapy with cannabinoids, the symptoms of the patients involved in the study improved significantly. A total of 7,362 people participated in the study. The minimum age of participants was 18, and the average age was just under 50. Slightly more than half were women. [6]

Conclusion

Therapy with medical cannabis – especially cannabidiol (CBD) – may be an alternative in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. It is possible that cannabinoids offer rapid relief of symptoms. Another advantage is the more favorable side effect profile compared to classic antidepressants. 

Important: A therapy of depression and anxiety disorders with medical cannabis should only be performed under medical supervision! 

Sources:

[1] World Health Organization. (2021, September 13). Depression. World Health Organization; World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression 

[2] Ärzteblatt, D. Ä. G., Redaktion Deutsches. (2022, March 2). WHO: Angst und Depressionen im ersten Coronajahr deutlich häufiger. Deutsches Ärzteblatt. https://www.aerzteblatt.de/nachrichten/132230/WHO-Angst-und-Depressionen-im-ersten-Coronajahr-deutlich-haeufiger 

[3] Pharmakotherapie / Behandlung mit Medikamenten – Deutsche Depressionsliga. (n.d.). Deutsche Depressionsliga E.V. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://depressionsliga.de/depression-was-nun/pharmakotherapie-behandlung-mit-medikamenten/ 

[4] Medizinisches Cannabis: Vom Wundermittel zum Hassobjekt | Kalapa Clinic (kalapa-clinic.com) 

[5] García-Gutiérrez MS, Navarrete F, Gasparyan A, Austrich-Olivares A, Sala F, Manzanares J. Cannabidiol: A Potential New Alternative for the Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Psychotic Disorders. Biomolecules. 2020 Nov 19;10(11):1575. doi: 10.3390/biom10111575. PMID: 33228239; PMCID: PMC7699613. 

[6] Sachedina, F., Chan, C., Damji, R. S., & de Sanctis, O. J. (2022). Medical cannabis use in Canada and its impact on anxiety and depression: A retrospective study. Psychiatry Research, 313, 114573. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2022.114573

About Mirjam Hübner

Mirjam Hübner ist Diplom-Journalistin und arbeitet als Redakteurin und Kommunikationstrainerin. Sie verfügt über langjährige Erfahrung in Journalismus und Unternehmenskommunikation, vor allem in den Bereichen Gesundheit und Finanzdienstleistung.