Can cannabis be used to treat postpartum depression?

A study carried out in 2018 confirmed CBD's potential as an antidepressant

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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When caring for a newborn baby, dealing with the “baby blues” can make looking after your little one seem like an impossible task. Based on estimates from Health & Human Services, approximately 15 percent of mothers in the United States will experience postpartum depression after giving birth. 

Also known as PPD, this condition is accompanied by numerous symptoms, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and helplessness. Although PPD might not affect every mother, it can leave affected females feeling defeated, angry and guilty about their maternal abilities. 

Diagnosis is the first step to finding a treatment for the symptoms of PPD, which many doctors are discovering could potentially be eased with weed. As the stigma surrounding cannabis begins to dissipate, more mothers and expectant mothers are considering introducing the plant’s therapeutic properties into their daily routine.

How can mothers use cannabis to treat postpartum depression?

It’s no secret that a female’s hormones will fluctuate during and after pregnancy. Unfortunately, for many women who suffer from PPD, hormones may remain unbalanced for quite some time after giving birth. In fact, this study says it is common for 85 percent of mothers to endure feelings of depression after having a baby.

Hormone changes can negatively impact the bonding process between a mother and her child, what with PPD being known to trigger feelings of guilt, anger, violence, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, lack of appetite or in some cases, binge eating. Doctors will prescribe a number of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments to relieve the symptoms of PPD, including Ativan, Ambien, Prozac, Xanax, and Valium. However, these medications can be addictive and often dangerous; enter cannabis.

In the past, cannabis has been tarnished as a plant that may potentially cause psychosis or schizophrenia. However, a study titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research” debunked this myth. The study also demonstrated how cannabis consumption does not necessarily have a negative impact on mental health.

“Cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” confirmed the researchers.

What does science say about using cannabis to treat postpartum depression?

Research into cannabis’ effects on mental health is somewhat lacking. This is due in large part to federal restrictions on the drug. Nonetheless, there are a handful of important studies that suggest the plant could come in handy as an aid for PPD and other mental health disorders. 

Take this 2014 study, for example, which spotlighted the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) as a serotonin balancer. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression. Since CBD can help regulate serotonin levels, this cannabis and hemp-derived cannabinoid could be the perfect alternative to OTC meds.

Another study that was carried out in 2018 confirmed CBD’s potential as an antidepressant. Unlike the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that may induce mind-altering effects, CBD is a non-psychotropic compound.

In regards to using cannabis as a mental health treatment, science has proven that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a major role in mood regulation. With that being said, more randomized controlled trials must be conducted to truly assess the potential of using certain cannabinoids as an aid for mental health problems, such as PPD. 

A number of factors will influence the way in which cannabis affects an individual. For example, each person’s biochemistry is different, from their genetic composition to their weight and gender. Combined, these things can influence the way cannabis reacts with someone’s senses. 

Let’s not forget about the plant’s potency and cannabinoid content either, which may induce therapeutic effects or psychoactivity, depending on the type of cannabinoid being ingested.

Since cannabinoids may be present in breast milk, it’s imperative that you consult with a doctor prior to using cannabis as a treatment for PPD.