Should You Try CBD For Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
November is known to many as the official kick-off month for holiday shopping — but it’s also notorious for something more insidious. It's the dawn of SAD season.
You've probably heard of seasonal affective disorder, but here's a refresher: SAD occurs when cold-weather changes, such as shorter daylight hours, set off a major depressive episodes in some people. Symptoms usually lift in the summer, when you're naturally exposed to more light, says Inua Momodu, MD, the chairman of the department of psychiatry at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. Some people have severe symptoms, while others experience milder ones, including low energy or loss of interest in activities they normally enjoy. Regardless of the intensity, SAD can be draining. And now, people are turning to something new to combat the condition: CBD
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There’s only one form of CBD, or cannabidiol, that’s currently approved by the FDA — Epidiolex, a prescription-strength oil used to treat epilepsy. There is no conclusive evidence that the compound, which is derived from hemp plants, has any other benefits. In fact, this spring, the FDA began warning some companies about the claims they were making about their CBD products.
Still, since the 2018 Farm Bill removed some legal restrictions on CBD, the trendy ingredient has been everywhere. Despite the lack of research-backed health benefits and the absence of FDA approval, marketers and suppliers of CBD products claim that it can heal anything from insomnia to chronic pain to anxiety. But experts are cautioning the growing number of people eager to use it that it's not a panacea for all of your ailments, and this includes SAD. 
There is “some interest” in the possibility of the ingredient as a mood disorder therapy, though as of now there are no reputable studies confirming its effectiveness, says J.H. Atkinson, MD, the co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. He says it's possible that CBD could ease inflammation, which may in turn boost mood; studies indicate that inflammation may be a risk factor for depression. But, Dr. Atkinson stresses, more research needs to be done before the medical community starts recommending CBD to patients for anything other than epilepsy.
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Another concern: Due to the lack of peer-reviewed studies into CBD, no one knows how much to take or which forms are most beneficial for different conditions, says Amy Kaplan, LCSW, a psychotherapist with telemedicine app PlushCare. That's a problem, since, in high doses, CBD and THC may cause panic attacks, anxiety, and paranoia, the opposite of what you're trying to achieve, Dr. Momodu says. 
He suggests trying science-backed therapies first, such as light therapy. Talk to your doctor about the best method, but in general it requires getting a light box that delivers 10,000 lux rays (they're relatively inexpensive), and gazing at it from 24 inches away for about 30 minutes or more each day.
But if that and other doctor-prescribed SAD treatments aren't working for you, Dr. Momodu believes that it's likely safe to try CBD. “Given the fact that up to 75 percent of people with depression have anxiety, and there is some evidence that CBD can be helpful with anxiety, then CBD may help with depression by treating any associated anxiety,” he says.
Before sampling it, though, Kaplan suggests telling your doctor you're considering taking CBD for your SAD. They can give you a heads up if it’ll interact with any other medications you’re taking, and help you land on a good starting dose. Or, "they may suggest a more traditional antidepressant medication or counseling to treat SAD instead of CBD,” Kaplan adds. “Ultimately it’s your choice on what path to take to address your mental health. But it is always a good idea to keep your doctor in the loop.”
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