According to the National Health Service, one in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness every year in the UK.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that close to 1 billion people live with a mental disorder globally, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.
Over and above these staggering figures, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a global crisis, affecting people and nations. It has acutely impacted our individual as well as a collective mental state.
It is against such a tumultuous backdrop that we can truly appreciate the significance of robust mental health. Our mental health impacts every aspect of our life — from psychological and emotional to social — and underpins how we feel, think, and behave each day. It informs our decision-making process, our response to stress, and also how we relate to others in our lives.
There’s no denying that mental health is fundamental to a well-balanced and wholesome life. It is thus imperative that we make it a priority and take concrete steps to nurture it.
This could be through regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, spending time in nature, practicing gratitude and kindness, and more. But, it is equally essential that we proactively seek support if we persistently find ourselves feeling stressed, fearful, or sad.
Support could be in the form of conventional doctors and medicines or through complementary and alternative medicine, such as energy therapies, yoga, and mindfulness, or even natural solutions like cannabidiol (CBD).
In recent years, studies on CBD oil have shown promising results in reducing symptoms associated with anxiety, stress, and depression. CBD can help to relieve sleep-related disorders, and evidence also points toward its calming effect on the nervous system.
Indeed, CBD might be the supplement we seek to nurture our mental health and wellbeing. Read on to find out more about CBD and the research around its efficacy in supporting mental health.
What is CBD: an Introduction
A flowering herb native to central Asia, the Cannabis plant has been in use for at least 8.000 years.
Its stalk has been used as a source of fiber for textiles and rope, its seeds as a source for oil and food, and its leaves, flowers, and roots have been utilized for medicinal and recreational purposes by various human cultures.
The Cannabis flowers or ‘buds’ hold hundreds of active compounds — the two largest groups being cannabinoids and terpenes.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most abundant compound found in cannabinoids. It is also perhaps the most well-known given its psychoactive properties, which make it intoxicating and give its users a ‘high’ in case of misuse or large concentrations.
The second-most found compound is CBD, which is neither hallucinogenic nor intoxicating. Whether you choose CBD gummies, oils, or vapes, cannabidiol is known to provide various health and medical benefits without changing the state of one’s mind.
CBD is also non-addictive and known to possess different properties such as analgesic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, soothing, and moisturizing.
How CBD Works (and, more importantly, what does CBD do?)
We all have a sophisticated biological system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
It regulates numerous physiological and cognitive functions such as mood, memory formation, appetite, pain sensitivity, sleep patterns, and immune response.
Its main task is to promote balance between all these systems and support equilibrium or ‘homeostasis.’ The ECS does this by producing chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which are akin to neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine. As it happens, cannabinoids like CBD and THC are able to interact with our ECS and aid it in carrying out its functions.
The ECS is primarily concentrated in the Central Nervous System (CNS), which comprises the brain and spinal cord, and the immune system.
It is little wonder then that most research and tests on CBD’s potential effects have been focused on conditions connected to the CNS such as epilepsy, pain, and sleep disorders.
So far, we have compelling evidence about the effectiveness of CBD in treating childhood epilepsy syndromes.
CBD may also be effective in addressing different types of chronic pain based on a study in which CBD applied to the skin of the rat model helped reduce the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis.
Another study on mice showed how CBD inhibited neuropathic and inflammatory pain, the two of the most complex types of chronic pain to treat. Further, research suggests that CBD may have therapeutic potential in treating sleep-related disorders as well.
CBD for Mental Health and Wellbeing: The Research
Given CBD’s ability to assist with various conditions that may positively impact our wellbeing, it is natural to wonder if it could help with our mental health as well.
According to the WHO, “Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
However, in the present context, the normal stresses of life are overwhelming and too many.
These could range from the anxiety caused by the loss of a job to stress over our loved ones’ health and wellbeing and from the physical and mental pain of dealing with our own health conditions to being depressed over the uncertainties that lie ahead and more.
The truth is, these anxieties and stresses do weigh on our mental health and affect the quality of our life. This is exactly where CBD might prove invaluable.
A recent study scrutinized patients with CBD prescriptions for various ailments, including mental health symptoms and neurological symptoms. After three weeks of treatment, they reported an improvement in their quality of life. In fact, participants who received the treatment for anxiety or depression experienced an improvement in their ability to perform daily tasks as well as a reduction in their symptoms of pain, anxiety, or depression.
Another study examined participants using CBD products to treat medical conditions such as pain, anxiety, or depression. More than half the participants reported that the product had a very favorable impact on their condition, while only about 4% reported dissatisfaction with the result.
Elsewhere, an analysis demonstrated how CBD continued to reduce stress and social anxiety. The study went on to describe CBD as “a potential treatment for anxiety disorders,” possibly helping conditions like social anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder as well as a generalized anxiety disorder.
In addition to these, the researchers studied the effectiveness of CBD on PTSD and insomnia, found that CBD significantly reduced PTSD-induced anxiety, and supported a healthy sleep pattern in the patient.
So, while the volume of studies is limited and further research and testing are required, if we consider the evidence that is currently available, CBD has the potential to help ease symptoms of anxiety, pain, and depression, support sleep, and improve the overall quality of life.
Also, the WHO agrees that CBD is well-tolerated and has a good safety profile, making it a compelling way to protect and enhance our mental health and wellbeing in these challenging times and beyond.