CBD and mental health

I consistently come across clients that are searching for that perfect quick fix. Something that will numb or reduce their pain (physical or mental), without severe side effects. They are hopeful, nervous, and suffering. They are tired. They want to live and are sick of fighting. 

In comes CBD. It is “natural.” It can be bought fairly easily and is more “hands-off” than visiting a psychiatrist. A quick search online, will find countless forums touting CBD’s magical effects. You will find the average lay-person often suggesting “correct dosage” for a variety of conditions, to include mental health disorders. They tell us “CBD will cure your mental health!”

CBD (cannabidiol) is an ingredient in cannabis. It has not only increased in accessibility, but also in its touted applications. It currently has varied levels of legalization across the United States. There have been many studies published regarding its effects. However, the vast majority of studies have recommended that larger, controlled research studies are needed to confirm CBD’s potential for assisting in various mental and physical disorders. In addition, CBD’s potential risks, side effects, and interactions with other medications have mostly anecdotal evidence. There are multiple studies planned assessing the effects of CBD on mental health disorders (a quick search of clinicaltrials.gov will show you many of these).

When we look at psychotropic medications that have been studied in depth, and approved for use, benefits vary. A meta-analysis of studies demonstrating the efficacy of psychotropic medications that assist in various mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.) has been shown to be most effective and less costly when combined with psychotherapy[efn_note]Britton, W.B., Haynes, P.L., Fridel, K.W., & Bootzin, R.R. (2012). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy improves polysomnographic and subjective sleep profiles in antidepressant users with sleep complaints. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 81, 296-304. doi: 10.1159/000332755. Epub 2012 Jul 20.[/efn_note][efn_note]Cuijpers, P., Sijbrandij, M., Koole, S. L., Andersson, G., Beekman, A. T., & Reynolds, C. F., 3rd (2014).[/efn_note][efn_note]van Apeldoorn, F.J., Stant, A.D., van Hout, W.J., Mersch, P.P., & den Boer, J. A.(2014). Cost-effectiveness of CBT, SSRI, and CBT+SSRI in the treatment for panic disorder. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 129, 286-295. doi: 10.1111/acps.12169. Epub 2013 Jul 3. Adding psychotherapy to antidepressant medication in depression and anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 13(1), 56–67.]https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20089 .[/efn_note]  Furthermore, many studies have concluded that therapy and medication are often similarly effective. Therefore, therapy is often recommended prior to medications, due to potential side effects of medications [efn_note] Hunsley, Dr. John, Elliot, Katherine, Therrien, Zoe (2013). The Efficacy and Effectiveness of Pschological Treatments. The Canadian Psychological Association.[/efn_note] 

In conclusion, there is limited conclusive clinical research on CBD benefits, and most current studies suggest the need for more research on CBD’s potential use in psychopharmacology. Studies suggest using not only psychopharmacology, but also psychotherapy in treating mental health disorders. Therefore, when a client asks me, “can’t I just take CBD for my anxiety?” my current answer is “no.” Medications are almost always more powerful when combined with therapy. They are rarely that “quick fix” we are looking for to feel better. While it requires time, energy and patience, therapy is greatly beneficial in improving your quality of life (and would benefit anyone, not just those suffering with diagnosable mental health conditions). 

When I work with clients, the predominant reasons for their current mental health struggles are past trauma, painful past experiences, and over-adaptation to these situations. They have learned how to cope in various ways, and those ways worked….for a while. Medications (and possibly CBD) may assist in early therapy to stabilize symptoms like anxiety or depression, so that coping skills can be learned. However, the painful past learning, trauma and life experiences still follow a person. Medications cannot and will not change that. Therapy will address those experiences, build insight, and improve coping. In addressing the root cause of your current mental health struggles, you are much better prepared to move forward in your life (quite possibly without needing CBD or medications).