If you struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you’re probably in search of a sustainable solution – something that will take the edge off, but that doesn’t cause any major side effects or isn’t otherwise a bad long-term option.
For many people in this situation, hemp-derived CBD (cannabidiol) fits the bill: this cannabinoid promotes mental and physical homeostasis, or balance, and it supports a healthy mind during the fall and winter seasons when SAD typically occurs.
But what does research say about CBD for SAD? And how should you use it to achieve the best results? We discuss these topics and more in this article.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during certain seasons of the year. It’s a more severe version of what is often called the “winter blues.” SAD most commonly happens in the fall or winter.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, SAD is caused by a chemical change in your brain that’s triggered by the shorter days and fewer hours of daylight characteristic of the fall and winter. It’s thought that this chemical change creates symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness
- Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed
- Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection
- Irritability and anxiety
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Fatigue, or low energy level
- Decreased sex drive
- Decreased ability to focus or concentrate
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Physical problems, such as headaches
Traditional treatments to SAD include light therapy, psychotherapy, and prescription antidepressants.
While these methods are effective and sometimes absolutely necessary, hemp-derived CBD and other natural remedies can be used to supplement the regular course of SAD treatment.
What is CBD?
CBD (cannabidiol) is a cannabinoid found in the hemp/cannabis plant (hemp is a variant of cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight).
CBD won’t cause a head high, but it will create mild sensations of mental calming and relaxation. Research suggests CBD has therapeutic potential for pain, inflammation, anxiety, sleep, epilepsy, and more.
Can CBD Help With Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Yes, CBD may be used for SAD. Research on CBD for depression, anxiety, and stress suggests that it may promote a calm, balanced mind for people who struggle with SAD.
CBD works for SAD by maintaining the general health of your mind while also specifically supporting the function of your serotonin receptors.
CBD promotes normalcy – that’s what you probably want when you’re dealing with SAD. Unlike alcohol or other substances, CBD can promote positive feelings without introducing a completely different feeling (a high, a buzz, etc.) in place of depression.
CBD isn’t a treatment for SAD, but nonetheless, it may help.
Benefits of CBD for Seasonal Affective Disorder
CBD has a few specific benefits for people who are dealing with SAD.
CBD may have antidepressant effects
There is a small amount of research indicating that CBD has antidepressant effects. One study found that CBD quickly induced sustained anti-depressant effects by acting on the brain.
A survey that looked at people who self-treated with CBD for depression found that 53% of respondents responded that CBD “definitely” helped, while another 33% said it “probably helped.”
While everyone will have a different approximation of how well CBD works, this survey shows that CBD has therapeutic potential in this area.
CBD may support the function of serotonin receptors
Research looking at the use of CBD for depression, anxiety, and stress shines a light on how CBD may promote a healthy mind.
One study found that CBD reduced both physiological and behavioral responses to stress by blocking the activation of the HPA axis, a neuroendocrine system in the body, and by activating the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor.
When activated, the 5-HT1A receptors bind to serotonin, a hormone in your brain that influences happiness.
Serotonin deficiency, which is when the serotonin in your body doesn’t act as well as it should, is a common occurrence during the Winter – your body doesn’t produce as much serotonin when there isn’t as much sunlight. Serotonin deficiency is a major cause of seasonal depression.
This research suggests CBD has supportive effects on how your body regulates serotonin, which demonstrates why it may be beneficial for people who deal with SAD.
Though these results are promising, it’s important to remember that further inquiry and proof are needed before CBD can be regarded as a reliable antidepressant.
Nonetheless, based on what we know now, CBD has the potential to support a healthy mind.
How CBD Works in the Body
CBD works by interacting with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), a receptor system in your body. All humans (and most animals) have an ECS.
The ECS plays a part in regulating your vital functions, including your inflammatory and pain responses, mood and mental state, and sleep-wake cycle. The ultimate purpose of your ECS is to keep your body in a state of balance.
Normally, the ECS works fine on its own. But during times of mental or physical distress, consuming cannabinoids, which interact with the receptors in your ECS, may support the function of this vital bodily system.
There are two main types of receptors in your ECS:
- CB1 receptors, which, when stimulated, render mental, or “head” effects
- CB2 receptors, which, when stimulated, render physical, or “body” effects
Interestingly, CBD doesn’t bind strongly to either the CB1 or CB2 receptors. This may come as a surprise, given its many benefits. Instead, CBD supports your ECS in other ways – some research says that CBD may prevent endocannabinoid breakdown.
And as we discussed, CBD may also impact your levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s associated with mental and physical well-being and balance. Research suggests that CBD may slightly increase the levels of serotonin in your brain, which helps to promote a relaxed mind during the fall and winter seasons.
How to Use CBD for Seasonal Affective Disorder: Best Products
There are several ways you can take CBD for seasonal affective disorder. There is no best method – just the method that works best for you.
For reference, bioavailability is a measure of how much CBD your body absorbs when taken in the given format – your body naturally discards some portion of any substance you consume.
Average Bioavailability: 20-30%
Onset Time: 15-20 minutes
CBD oil, which consists of cannabinoids and carrier oil, is taken under the tongue and absorbed through the blood vessels in the mouth, rather than swallowed.
As a result, it’s slightly more bioavailable than other CBD delivery methods, and it has a faster onset, too.
CBD oil is beneficial for therapeutic uses as it allows you to measure very precise doses.
Average Bioavailability: 10-20%
Onset Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
The most common type of CBD edibles are gummies, which provide a fixed-dose way to take CBD.
They’re a good option if you plan to take the same amount of CBD each day, as when establishing a routine during the fall and winter months. They also taste great – a major plus if you need a bit of extra motivation to take your daily dose.
Average Bioavailability: 10-20%
Onset Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Capsules (or softgels) are CBD oil enclosed in a gel capsule. Capsules offer a quick, tasteless alternative to edibles – just keep in mind that they can’t be cleanly split if you need a smaller dose.
Flower & Vapes
Average Bioavailability: 30-40%
Onset Time: 5-10 minutes
Smoking CBD-rich hemp flower, or inhaling CBD in vape form, are two additional ways you can consume CBD.
Although there is the obvious health risk, flower and vapes have an edge over other consumption methods when it comes to onset time. Vapes, in particular, also allow you to take small amounts of CBD throughout the day as you need it.
CBD Dosage for Seasonal Affective Disorder
In order to see good results with CBD for SAD, it’s important to get the dosing right; the goal is to take enough for it to be effective, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.
Starting out, we recommend the following CBD dosage formula:
(0.1) x (your body weight in lbs.) = your daily dose of CBD for SAD in mg.
This will equate to 10-25mg for most people. Once you’ve taken this dose a few times, slowly adjust it up or down depending on how you’re feeling.
When using natural remedies to address SAD, the key is to achieve sustainability: try to find an amount that will make your day-to-day better during the winter season.
Finding this perfect dose can be difficult, but once you do, it can become a consistent routine.
Other Natural Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder
While CBD may help you supplement traditional SAD treatments, it’s far from the only natural alternative that you can turn to. Here are some other ways to address SAD:
Try light therapy
Light therapy is where you sit near a light box for a certain period of time each day after you wake up. Light boxes are designed to mimic sunlight.
By exposing yourself to this light at the beginning of the day, your natural body clock – which would otherwise be thrown off since the sun doesn’t rise as early in the fall and winter – can be maintained.
Light therapy is the first line of defense against seasonal depression that’s caused by a lack of sunlight.
Get plenty of exercise
Exercise may help with SAD in a few different ways. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are pain-reducing hormones that also increase your mental feelings of well-being.
Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
Eating a well-balanced meal that’s high in complex carbohydrates and tryptophan may help with SAD. Complex carbohydrates stimulate your body’s production of serotonin, leading to feelings of well-being. Tryptophan, an amino acid, also aids in your body’s synthesis of serotonin.
Foods high in complex carbs include legumes (beans and peas), fruits, and whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta. Tryptophan-rich foods include cheese, egg whites, milk, chicken, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Stay away from alcohol and other depressants
Alcohol is a depressant, which can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters – such as serotonin – in the brain.
While it may lead to temporary relaxation, alcohol has a depressing effect on the brain and nervous system, which can intensify the depression associated with SAD.
Spend time with others & confide in someone
Spending time with friends, family, your partner, and other loved ones can help with the feelings of depression you’re experiencing.
Maintaining relationships may increase your self of belonging, improve your self-confidence, and reduce anxiety and stress.
Do things that make you feel good
Last but not least, if you struggle with SAD, make a point to fill the fall and winter with activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good, be it listening to music, going to concerts, learning new things, spending time outdoors, or volunteering in your community.
When to See a Doctor
While CBD and other natural remedies may help you maintain mental equilibrium as you get through the fall or winter, you should speak with your doctor if you have a severe case of SAD, or if your case is getting worse instead of better.
Your doctor will help you determine the best course of action. They might prescribe you with antidepressant medications, or they might recommend you try psychotherapy, which uses discussion, listening, and counseling to address depression.
Conclusion: Is CBD A Viable Option for SAD?
CBD is not a replacement for antidepressant medications, and it’s not a proven treatment for SAD.
But it is a natural supplement that promotes mental balance, and most critically, it’s sustainable – it won’t create jarring side effects, and it can support the daily flow of life for as long as you need it.
Just remember that no natural remedy should take the place of seeing a doctor if things get too severe.
CBD for Seasonal Affective Disorder: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions we commonly get about using CBD for SAD.
What helps with seasonal affective disorder?
Beneficial natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) include taking CBD, light therapy, healthy eating, exercise, and spending time with loved ones. Traditional treatments for SAD include antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.
Does CBD work like an antidepressant?
While CBD isn’t FDA-approved as an antidepressant, and is not a replacement for these medications, research shows that CBD may work similarly to antidepressants by stimulating the 5-HT1A receptors, thereby increasing the amount of serotonin processed by your body.
How much CBD is needed for depression?
For seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other forms of depression, we recommend starting with a low-strength dose of CBD and adjusting from there. You can use this formula: (0.1) x (your body weight in lbs.) = your daily dose of CBD for depression in mg. For most people, this constitutes 10-25mg of CBD.