A focused look at a plant compound’s ability to stave off negative emotion during seasonal times of low sunlight. Hockey is most exhilarating on the open ice of a lake. Snowshoeing in powdery snow can be a major source of exercise. Bonfires feel the best when they melt the snow before the flakes hit the ground. Winter is an exceptional time for people who live in areas that get a lot of snow. But in those places, they also get fewer hours of sunshine during the winter months. The shorter days often mean waking up while it’s still dark outside and having dinner after the sun sets. The season doesn’t just shorten the day, it feels like it decreases people’s energy.
For some, this energy depletion is severe enough to cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s characterized by major depression during the winter months. More colloquially, we might call it the “winter blues.” But for many people, it’s more than that, and it’s not easy to treat with traditional pharmaceuticals.
Thankfully, nature has given us a better option. Cannabis plants create a plethora of different compounds with medicinal effects. One of those compounds — cannabidiol, or CBD — may help fill in the gaps for SAD sufferers where traditional medicines have fallen short.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: What is it? Can it be treated?
SAD, though often associated with winter, can also impact people in the autumn. For sufferers of SAD, the knowledge that winter is coming gives them anxiety before the season even begins. As they anticipate the negative feelings that come with the shorter, colder days, they first begin to experience SAD before the first snowfall.
According to a survey published in 2017, over 80% of psychiatric institutions in German-speaking countries prescribe preventative treatment for people who suffer from SAD.
Prevention methods vary, but include:
- Lifestyle changes
- Physical therapy
Research from 2018 spoke to the need for treating people on the individual level. Customizing their prescription to their preferences seems to improve outcomes. At the same time, the efficacy of specific treatments has yet to be established.
In the author’s conclusion to the 2018 study, they seemed to suggest that the best way to treat SAD is by raising awareness about its existence.
They don’t have much faith in the current pharmaceutical approaches.
So, what might work?
Cannabis uses sunlight to create compounds that help us when there’s little sunlight
Without sunlight and proper care to treat SAD, many people can find relief in cannabis. Research suggests that CBD may be able to help people manage the depression and anxiety that characterize SAD.
A 2011 study looked at how cannabinoids influenced anxiety in people with social anxiety when they had to perform public speaking. The study showed that CBD reduced their anxiety (similar to hiking reducing anxiety) and related symptoms considerably. More recently, research was done in 2015 on CBD as a treatment for a range of anxiety disorders. The study’s authors stated plainly that “preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders.”
CBD’s effects on anxiety aren’t the only reason to make it a point of focus for this condition. SAD is more than anxiety; it also carries with it an underlying level of depression. And interestingly, CBD may also be able to combat the depression associated with SAD.
Research from 2018 showed that CBD has an antidepressant-like effect. The effect is impacted by serotonin levels, which might be a clue as to why sustained cannabis use may help treat SAD.
As consumption remains nominal, the quality of life improves, which aids in the production of more serotonin. CBD may help with SAD by inducing a positive-feedback mechanism that improves the situation for those suffering. While it’s showing promise, there’s a strong need for more research on how CBD impacts SAD. Research up until now has neglected to isolate this condition in studies done with cannabinoids.
Concerns for treating SAD with CBD
If you’re thinking of trying CBD as a treatment for SAD, there are few things you should keep in mind before you start. Most importantly, CBD may interact with some pharmaceuticals, so if you’re thinking about taking CBD, speak with your doctor what the medication you’re already on.
Next, your general practitioner might not recognize the symptoms of SAD. Make sure you have the diagnosis correct before you begin a CBD regimen. Lastly, reactions to cannabinoids are highly individualistic. Finding the correct CBD product, utilizing the best method of consumption, and setting a dosing schedule is all a matter of personal need and preference. It’s imperative to spend time discovering what works best for you.