CBD for depression: does it work?

Depression is a debilitating condition which is difficult to treat but recent years have shown a rise in popularity of the use of CBD for depression.  CBD (cannabidiol) is a chemical found in cannabis. CBD is not psychoactive. It does not make you high. What it does do is interact with a number of receptors in the brain, which may help to relieve symptoms of depression.

However, the topic of depression and CBD oil is hotly debated. Some scientists claim that CBD oil is helpful for depression, while others feel that it’s too soon to say. So, does CBD oil actually help symptoms of depression? Here’s a look at the research and what the science actually has to say.

CBD oil and depression - what do we actually know?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD oil can relieve some symptoms of depression and many people report feeling happier and less anxious after taking CBD.  

Major clinical trials are undergoing at the moment and we expect in the next few years, lots of new study findings. However, here’s what we know right now:

Preclinical trials show optimistic findings 

Preclinical studies, that is, studies involving animals but not humans show optimistic findings for the use of CBD .  A study in 2016 for example with rats, showed that by taking CBD, rats became more curious, motivated and overall happier! 

We are early on human trials 

We are early on our understanding of how CBD works for depression but a study in 2020 in New Zealand which analysed 400 patients who were prescribed CBD by their doctors, did show that mental health outcomes for patients taking CBD did improve, including their levels of depression. 

How CBD works for depression: CBD is similar to how SSRI’s work

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants. SSRI’s work by preventing the breakdown of serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes towards our feelings of good mood. By preventing the breakdown of this neurotransmitter, we can feel better for longer. 

CBD works similarly by preventing the breakdown of anandamide, another feel good compound in our bodies. Higher anandamide levels in our bodies would also make us feel better for longer.   Exercise for example, increases our natural levels of anandamide and is one reason attributed to why we feel better after exercise (it’s not only those endorphins!)

CBD also activates the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor which have led scientists to observe  both reduces stress and has an  anti-depressant effect.  


While we are still very early on human clinical trials for CBD for depression, preclinical trials show promising results.

When you compare how SSRI’s work and understand why they work, CBD works similarly. CBD both activates the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors in our brains. It also helps prevent the breakdown of anandamide, another feel good compound.

Whatever the future shows for CBD, it is clear, it is no ordinary compound.