CBD has become available from more and more retailers and websites, as its benefits become apparent to both the medical establishment and to users. People are using it for everything from pain to insomnia and depression. Here we take a look at the long history of CBD for depression.


CBD For Depression: The History

Where does it come from?

Depression can mean one of two things: a temporary depressed mood, or a condition known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). MDD can be genetic in those with a family history of it or can be triggered by a particularly traumatic life event. Some cases of MDD may even have an unknown cause. Temporary depression can be caused by episodes such as bereavement – the loss of a loved one – this is a very common way for people to become depressed. Major life changes such as moving to a strange new place can bring it on. In northern regions particularly, the short daytime during the winter often puts people in a depressive state. Substance abuse of alcohol or other drugs is a major source of depression in people’s lives. This can be from using too much, from the actual inebriation, or withdrawal symptoms. Other health issues can cause people to be depressed, too. Obesity, general ill health, or chronic illnesses can often lead to depression.

What does it do?

Depression, both temporary and MDD, can cause a huge range of signs and symptoms. These vary depending on the person suffering, and on the situation they find themselves in. People with depression can often lose interest in things they normally care about. This can be a distress to people who are close to them and is unnerving. Feelings of sadness, worthlessness and guilt are widespread in patients with depression. People are known to overeat or undereat. Others are found to sleep either too little or too much.

Delusions and hallucinations can accompany some of the more serious cases of depression, and the condition is on the increase, especially in more developed countries. The effectiveness of current models of treatment is sporadic, and new and alternative methods are always welcome.

CBD and Depression

What exactly is CBD?

CBD is a (relatively) recently discovered chemical that occurs in the plants of the Cannabis genus, known commonly as hemp. Out of the ~100 cannabinoid chemicals that are made by the plant, CBD is the most exciting in terms of medicine and biology. Humans have lived alongside hemp for a long time – up to 11,700 years – and have knowingly used it as medicine for physical and mental illness for nearly as long.

Ancient History

In the Yanghai Tombs in China, a shaman was found buried in a shroud of hemp plants. He had been buried at least 2,700 years ago. Years after the dig, the plants were studied further, and medicinal cannabinoids were discovered still in them, so the Yanghai Man may well be the earliest confirmed user of CBD!

A couple of centuries later, Herodotus from ancient Greece gives us an account of Scythians using hemp in 450 BC. Known as the ‘Father of History’, due to his accurate portrayals of real life, Herodotus says that the Scythians build a tent, bring in a bowl of red-hot stones and throw hemp seeds on them. The Scythians then put their heads in the tent, emerge and ‘howl for joy’ at the effects of the hemp. An early use of CBD for depression, perhaps?

Hildegard Von Bingen, demonstrating the effects of CBD on the ’empty brain’

Hildegard the Nun

Another writer gives us a medieval herbal remedy using hemp. Hildegard Von Bingen was a nun in charge of a number of convents in Germany in the 1100s. She was a famous scholar, composer, musician, herbalist and scientist – professions rarely achieved by women in Europe at that time. In a herbal book, Hildegard says that “Whoever has an empty brain and head pains, the head pains will be reduced”. Could this be a medieval cure for mental health issues using CBD?

Early Modern CBD

Robert Hooke was a famous English scientist in the late 17th century. He discovered a number of fundamental truths about light and was a friend of Isaac Newton. When ships began coming back from India bearing a different kind of hemp to that he was used to in Europe, Hooke began carrying out trials on it. He claimed that hemp would “possibly be of considerable use for Lunaticks, or for other Distempers of the Head”. He may well here be referring to what was then called ‘melancholia’ – what we might call depression. It is possible that the hemp from India contained more CBD than that which at the time was grown in Europe for ropes.

And Now?

he plant from which we get CBD was banned in most western countries in the 1920s and ‘30s, following the lead of the USA. Research into the real medicinal uses of this traditional remedy was then stunted until the 1960s. At this time, research teams in Israel began to uncover the shape of the molecule and kickstarted serious enquiry into its benefits. In 1988, the endocannabinoid system was discovered in us and other mammals. This set of receptors is ideal for receiving cannabinoid chemicals, as well as anandamide – the bliss molecule – which has been characterised as the body’s own cannabinoid.

After this, much of the stigma against this natural remedy has slowly dissipated. CBD has been shown to benefit sufferers of anxiety and other mental issues and to stimulate the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These two chemicals are known for making us feel happy. Although large-scale clinical trials are yet to be carried out on the effect of CBD on depression, we can see from historical evidence and simple brain chemistry that CBD has some potential to help with depression.

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