The Real Winter Blues

Winter is coming. And with it comes short days, cold weather and little exposure to sunlight. Okay so we’re there already! The winter months can get us all a bit down, but for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (get it?), the effects are felt much deeper and it's regarded as a major depressive disorder. Those between the ages of 18 and 30 are most likely to be afflicted, but lucky for us it’s been shown that CBD may be able to ease the symptoms of SAD, such as anxiety, depression and sleep problems. But before we can appreciate how CBD can help, we must first understand what SAD is and why people experience it.

What is it?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is

‘a syndrome characterised by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year’.

During the autumn and winter months the lack of light exposure, the cold and miserable weather and the shorter days have been observed as large contributing factors to SAD. Although there appears to be no definitive cause or set of causes, the lack of sunlight and subsequent vitamin D deficiency are argued to play a pivotal role in SAD. For sufferers this not only results in a depressed mood but it can also cause general lack of interest in things, loss of energy and motivation, increased or decreased appetite, weight gain, anxiety, diminished ability to focus or concentrate and issues with sleep; whether insomnia or over-sleeping. Research shows that an individual’s exposure to light can be key to mood improvement, so it is suggested that those who suffer from SAD get as much sunlight as possible, preferably at a latitude close to the equator because this kind of exposure to the sun and heat has shown to drastically improve the symptoms of SAD.

But unfortunately most of us aren’t lucky enough to jet off to the Maldives as soon as it gets chilly! So we make the most of what we’ve got. If your doctor diagnoses you with SAD they may suggest that you buy a light therapy box, undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or prescribe you with antidepressants. These options can be used in conjunction with CBD to ease the symptoms of SAD, but CBD should not entirely replace any medically prescribed treatments.

Photo credit: The Jakarta Post

How can CBD help?

Exposure to sunlight is critical to our health and when that exposure is lacking the part of the brain called the hypothalamus is unable to function properly. The hypothalamus is imperative to a functioning nervous and endocrine system, as well as playing a crucial role in regulating the release of hormones. So when the hypothalamus is affected, the serotonin production that is largely responsible for sleep regulation, appetite and overall mood is off balance, which results in feelings of depression and anxiety. CBD and other cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a network of receptors widespread throughout the human body. The ECS impacts a range of physical processes such as pain management, appetite, cognitive functions and mood, which is why CBD has been shown to impact a variety of conditions and ailments.

For example if you have SAD then you may have issues controlling your appetite; whether that means loss of appetite or binge-eating. CBD is rich in amino acids that provide the energy needed for many metabolic processes, so according to Dr Allan Frankel, CBD can reduce the appetite of those who overeat and also stimulate the appetite of those who should eat more. This occurs because when the processes are out of balance your body should synthesize the cannabinoids that are required to revert back to homeostasis, which is the ability of the human body to achieve and sustain a state of equilibrium within its internal environment while dealing with external fluctuations or changes.

This is also important in relation to sleeping patterns. If you’re sleeping too much or too little then an unbalanced ECS could be responsible because it inhibits relaxation and healthy sleep. CBD has been proven to help the body achieve and maintain homeostasis, so now it is sometimes referred to as the ‘healing’ cannabinoid. The ability of CBD to reduce symptoms such as anxiety, in turn helps to reduce sleep difficulties and improve sleep quality. Research has shown that CBD can increase overall amount of sleep and reduce insomnia, especially for those who suffer from chronic pain. For reducing day-time tiredness, keeping your mood high and maintaining personal performance, micro-dosing CBD is particularly effective. Being alert when you’re awake is imperative to the consistency and strength of the sleep-wake cycle, so by micro-dosing CBD not only can you adopt a healthy sleeping pattern but you can also improve your day-to-day experience.

Photo credit: Muncheez.com

The most notable symptom of SAD is a depressive mood or state of being. When somebody is depressed their neurochemistry plays an important role. However depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain as it is often claimed, but rather the imbalance is a symptom of the depression. Two of the chemicals, or neurotransmitters, that are affected during depression are dopamine and serotonin.  As previously mentioned, when someone is depressed they may lose interest in general activities, have trouble sleeping, lack energy and feel sad. Dopamine and serotonin levels are affected by factors like stress, exercise and mental state, which leads research to suggest that people are who are depressed often have reduced dopamine and serotonin transmission.

This is where incorporating CBD into your daily routine could be helpful for treating depression. CBD is unique in its ability to directly interact with dopamine and serotonin receptors so when CBD is ingested it influences brain activity and generates a release of dopamine and serotonin throughout the body; an instant mood lift. Research by San Paulo University in Brazil and London’s King’s College also shows that when CBD is consumed it activates the hydroxytryptamine (5-HT1A) serotonin receptor which in turn has a calming, anti-anxiety effect. There’s a ton of academic evidence that suggests that CBD can ease anxiety and depression, as well as other symptoms of SAD.

So whether you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or if just some of these symptoms apply to you, CBD may be able to help you banish the winter blues. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in many parts of your body and regulates a variety of physical processes, which is why using CBD can help with a range of symptoms including lack of/increased appetite, sleeping patterns, anxiety, depression and low moods in general. #createbetterdays