Winter blues got you down? Many people are turning to CBD to combat seasonal affective disorder


It’s estimated that 0.5 to 3 percent of the general population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, also known by its wildly appropriate acronym: SAD. This debilitating condition affects 10 to 20 percent of individuals with a major depressive disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder occurs because of the changing of seasons in certain climates. During winter months, many people don’t get as much sunlight as they do in other seasons, both because of the shorter days and, in many parts of the world, colder temperatures. These people also get less vitamin D, which is important for mental health.

Untreated, SAD can lead to major depressive episodes for some people. But for many people, SAD manifests itself as a general feeling of being in the doldrums. Lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much are common symptoms.

For those who struggle with depression year-round, antidepressants are usually the most effective solution. But for those who only struggle with this feeling during three months out of the year and whose symptoms are not severe, CBD has, for many, been a welcome, more holistic option.

Many users report using CBD to fight SAD improves their mood without the negative side effects that can result from antidepressants. You can start and stop taking CBD whenever you want without having to make changes to your dosage slowly the way you would with antidepressants, and for them, it doesn’t cause nausea, weight gain, or lack of sex-drive the way antidepressants can.

There is not enough scientific evidence out there to say definitively whether CBD really helps with SAD, so it would be very wrong to claim CBD as a kind of miracle drug for anyone who struggles with this disorder. But the strong anecdotal evidence around CBD makes certain questions worth answering (or attempting to answer, anyway).

What do we know about how CBD affects the brain? Is the anecdotal evidence we have a result of a placebo effect or a real solution that can offer relief to individuals who struggle to find joy in winter months?

We looked into what there is to know about CBD for SAD right now. Here’s what we found.

FEELING DEPRESSED OR THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE? HELP IS AVAILABLE ANY TIME: National Toll-Free Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or online at

Seasonal affective disorder symptoms

First, a little background on SAD.

Seasonal affective disorder symptoms will typically begin in the fall as the sun sets earlier and rises later than in the summer months. As fall moves into winter, the symptoms generally increase. Those affected will feel a loss of energy and a general sense of moodiness.

As winter melts away and the sun appears more often, you’ll usually see your symptoms subside. SAD may cause depression in these darker months and then resolve itself as warmer weather begins. Here is a list of common SAD symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Low energy or sluggish feeling
  • Feeling sad or down the majority of the day
  • Feeling sad or down nearly every day
  • Difficulty sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, overeating
  • A feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness

Common treatments for SAD

Seasonal affective disorder treatment typically consists of both organic and pharmaceutical treatments. Many individuals who realize they’re suffering from SAD can begin their own therapy by just going outside when the sun is shining. For some people, though, sunshine isn’t enough.

Here are a few common treatments that have proved effective for many people:

  • Light therapy: When there just isn’t enough sun, a psychiatrist may recommend light therapy, where a patient lies under a special light for a given amount of time every day
  • Psychotherapy: Interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral therapy may help a patient talk through a distorted view they have of the environment or themselves
  • Antidepressants: If organic methods fail, a psychiatrist may prescribe prescription medications that seek to help correct a chemical imbalance that leads to seasonal affective disorder.

While antidepressants may help individuals with SAD, they sometimes come with several frustrating side effects. These can include:

  • Feelings of agitation, shakiness, and anxiety
  • Stomach aches
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia or feeling extremely sleepy
  • Headaches
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Difficulty maintaining or even obtaining an erection
  • Difficulty achieving orgasm during masturbation or sex

CBD: another solution?

As previously mentioned, many people are now exploring the benefits of CBD to treat SAD. There are loads of personal stories online touting CBD as a treatment for not just SAD, but other mental health issues such as anxiety and OCD too. But is there any truth to them?

We did some digging on the science behind CBD for SAD. Here’s what we found:

Studies related to CBD and the brain

To understand the effectiveness of CBD, researchers first need to better understand how CBD works. Clinicians and scientists are just beginning to conduct studies on how CBD works in the brain. Specifically, many researchers want to know how it affects emotional centers.

Sophisticated imaging has revealed how CBD increases blood flow in the cingulate cortex while reducing flow in the hippocampus. The cingulate cortex helps process emotions and regulate behavior. More blood flow to this area of your brain is believed to positively affect emotions and behavior.

In one study of patients using CBD, scientists concluded that the benefits of reducing the severity of anxiety and depressive symptoms are promising while limited. Some studies are showing that CBD works well in treating depression with few side effects such as those experienced when patients take traditional anti-depressants.

Another study, conducted in 2014 and published in CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets, states that CBD has great psychiatric potential, including uses as an antidepressant.

A 2012 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychology agrees with these findings. This particular study stated that CBD had been shown to reduce anxiety, particularly in patients who suffer from social anxiety.

It’s worth noting, however, that most of these studies focus on the impact of CBD on anxiety disorders versus depressive disorders.

One more study, published in the Brazilian Journal of Pharmacology, supports the idea of CBD as an antidepressant. It states that CBD induces antidepressant-like effects.

Different CBD products have suggested CBD can activate the 5-HT (1A) receptors. These receptors control serotonin release. This hormone gives a person that feel-good feeling that combats depression.

So, there are a lot of mixed reviews about CBD’s effectiveness as a treatment for depression. But here’s what many scientists agree on: the success of CBD as a treatment for SAD depends on proper CBD dosage. Since CBD is available readily without a prescription, psychiatrists rely on the honesty of their patients to determine how much CBD they need. After all, a patient could be self-medicating already.

Side effects of CBD

It’s important to note that while CBD may have a shorter list of potential side effects than antidepressants, side effects of CBD do exist. They include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Additionally, if you are already taking antidepressants or any other medication, CBD can impact the effects of that medication. Consult a healthcare provider before attempting to use CBD for SAD to talk about what’s best for your mental health and how CBD will interact with your current medications.


Before trying CBD to alleviate symptoms of SAD, consult a healthcare professional. A psychiatrist can recommend the best course of action for your particular mental health needs, and a cannabis clinician can provide a recommendation on the best dosage of CBD to try if that is the path you choose to take.

On the whole, a lot of the CBD studies conducted so far indicate that there is indeed a future for CBD in the world of SAD treatment. So if you think it might help you, go ahead and try it. And if it doesn’t work for you or causes any of the negative side effects listed above, stop or decrease your dose significantly.

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