By: Michael Schwartz
Mental illness is a widespread chronic disease affecting millions of Americans. It does not discriminate, and affects all ages, sexes and ethnic groups. For some individuals who do not suffer symptoms of mental illness on a regular basis, the holiday season often exacerbates the condition and triggers the disease.
Symptoms usually include anxiety, depression and sadness. Regardless of the cause, whether it be due to the loss of a loved one, financial issues, stress shopping for gifts, the cold and frigid weather or even the shorter hours of daylight, physicians report a notable increase in the number of patients seen during the holiday season for psychiatric-related complaints.
Genetics play a definite role in the disease which can make treatment complex and difficult. Still, there are many medications as well as other non-pharmacologic options for dealing with the holiday blues. Pharmaceutical treatments include anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications; non-medication therapies include psychiatric counseling, light therapy and even intensive physical exercise. Successful therapies vary from patient to patient and many of the medications used to treat depression and anxiety come with side effects.
Cannabidiol “CBD” is a promising new and evolving treatment option. CBD is one of over 113 identified cannabinoids in the hemp plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol “THC” (the ingredient in marijuana that causes the “high”), CBD has no psychoactive properties. As such, people using CBD will not experience the euphoric “high” when taking this supplement, which allows legal sale of the supplement in most states.
CBD oil is derived from a specific hemp plant cultivated purposely to have a low THC content (less than .3 percent), whereas marijuana is derived from a similar plant specifically cross-bred to have the highest THC level obtainable. Thus, each are grown for different purposes. Despite the misconception, hemp oils are legally sold throughout most of the United States for various uses including hemp infused products such as moisturizing creams and soaps.
Since physicians are reluctant and discouraged from prescribing opiates (for acute and chronic pain) due to their addictive properties, and because many medications used for depression and anxiety often come with undesirable side effects, doctors and patients are seeking efficacious alternatives. Some recent studies suggest that CBD may be an option. Some indications for the use of CBD now include treatment for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain syndromes, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasticity and as a sleep aid.
Whether CBD can treat these disorders (and to what extent) is still being debated. Studies are ongoing, but most of the early results and anecdotal evidence suggests that these supplement seems safe and effective. Furthermore, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has removed CBD from the 2018 list of prohibited substances (whereas, marijuana is still banned and will result in disqualification for athletes should they test positive).
Fortunately, most literature suggests that for people using CBD will test negative for marijuana if a drug test is obtained. However, given that there may be variations in the amount of THC found in CBD oils, caution is recommended. Thus, some states (e.g. Indiana) have changed the status of CBD products which are now considered to be illegal to sell or consume given that they are derived from hemp plant and may contain some THC.
CBD can be taken as a pill, liquid drops, as a cream or even via vape. Milligram dosing varies and purity is a concern, as it typically is with unregulated supplements. Still, guidelines for treatments and dosing can be found on the websites of companies that sell these products. Moreover, CBD is becoming so popular that some companies are infusing CBD into coffee and tea. Additionally, there are now products on the market touting pain relief and reduction in anxiety for the family pet.
Never start a new medication, vitamin or supplement without first discussing it with your physician. Even herbal supplements and vitamins can have side effects and adversely interact with your prescribed medications. Always do your research before purchasing these products. Although the preliminary reports look promising, it is too early in the game to make CBD a commonly recommended treatment. Should CBD becomes a viable option, patients with anxiety, depression and PTSD (and well as other mental illnesses) may finally have a safe and efficacious alternative to the commonly prescribed medications.
Dr. Michael Schwartz is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and is affiliated with Darien Primary and Specialty Care with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his website at drmichaelbschwartz.com.