Does CBD Help With Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It is also referred to as simply seasonal depression. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not actually a separate disorder, but rather a subtype of depression. People with SAD commonly suffer from symptoms that occur in the fall and winter months, but some people also have summer SAD. According to Mental Health America, around 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences SAD, and four out of five people who experience SAD are women.  

If you’re looking for a natural remedy that might help improve your mood and reduce the symptoms of SAD, CBD oil could be the right choice for you.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder differ from those of “regular” depression because you experience them only when the seasons change. Most people with SAD experience moodiness and decreased energy during the fall, and their symptoms can persist throughout the winter. Usually, symptoms start mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Some of the common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Depressed or a low mood
  • A lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Decreased energy
  • Sleep problems
  • Sluggishness or agitation
  • Weight or appetite changes
  • Concentration problems
  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of suicide (in severe cases)

Typical Treatments for SAD

Conventional treatments for seasonal affective disorder usually include light therapy, medication and/or counseling. Light therapy, which entails sitting in front of a special light box for a certain period of time each day, is one of the most commonly suggested treatments, as it is a natural way of regulating brain chemicals associated with SAD and can positively impact its symptoms. Counseling can help you learn better coping mechanisms for dealing with your symptoms, and medication might be beneficial for people with severe symptoms of SAD.

Sometimes, a combination of these treatments is necessary for the best results. However, if you prefer a more natural and alternative approach to treating your symptoms, consider using CBD oil as a supplement to your doctor’s advice.

What Is CBD and How Do You Use It?

CBD is one of the chemical compounds known as cannabinoids, which are found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, the principal psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, CBD does not produce a “high” but rather has soothing, anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties that may make it a beneficial supplement if you’re dealing with SAD or another mood or anxiety disorder.

CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant but is also available in synthetic formulations. People commonly take CBD as an oil, but you can also find it in pill, spray, tincture and inhaler formats.

How Can CBD Help?

You’ve likely heard about the effect of serotonin on mood disorders like depression. Serotonin is a brain chemical known as a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and other bodily functions. Many prescription antidepressants work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain, which often helps improve well-being, mood and functioning.

Researchers have found that people with SAD have significant differences in the way their brains regulate serotonin. Because of how their bodies transport and manage serotonin, they have decreased levels of this important neurotransmitter, leaving them feeling sad, depressed and generally blue throughout the winter (or summer, in less common cases). CBD might help by targeting the brain’s serotonin receptors, but there are also potential antidepressant effects of CBD that aren’t yet completely understood.

Studies have already demonstrated the benefits of CBD for anxiety and stress. Some research as well as anecdotal reports indicate that people with SAD may also benefit from CBD oil, but the reasons why aren’t entirely clear. One clinical study on animals showed that CBD may have antidepressant properties due to its effect on serotonin levels, while another study showed that CBD, when compared to other cannabinoids, had significant antidepressant effects but the exact mechanisms for its action was unclear.

Insomnia is probably one of the most frustrating symptoms of SAD. Clinical evidence has shown that CBD may help increase the amount of overall sleep, and some preliminary evidence shows that it may be beneficial for people with insomnia by helping them stay asleep.

Other Ways to Reduce SAD Symptoms

Staying active through regular exercise is one of the most advisable ways of reducing symptoms of SAD, according to Dr. Andrew Weil. People who are deficient in vitamin D might also consider taking a supplement—Weil advises 2,000 IU for most people, but people with SAD may need a higher dose. Consult your doctor to discuss the dosage that is right for your needs. Other supplements that may help include fish oil, vitamin B, SAMe or St. John’s wort, but it’s important to inform your doctor of any supplements you take, especially if you use medication, as supplements may cause interactions.

The Bottom Line: Is CBD Right for You?

It goes without saying that you should always consult your doctor to discuss the treatment options that are best for you. But if you’re interested in a non-pharmaceutical remedy, CBD oil might be the answer you’ve been looking for. Although more clinical research is needed and it’s not a cure, CBD may provide certain benefits for reducing the symptoms of SAD.

Stacy Mosel, LMSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and musician. She received a Bachelor's degree in Music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1999 and a Master of Social Work from New York University in 2002. She has had extensive training in child and family therapy and the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders.

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No matter how you partake, the timeline of a nice cannabis session is often the same. Things change a lot as the minutes tick by, and there's definitely a turning point, when things get a little more serious. So next time you have a smoke or an edible, see if your timeline matches up with this one.

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