CBD & SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

CBD 101
CBD & SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Read time: 6 minutes

With the combination of shorter days, longer nights, and chilly weather, seasonal depression finds a way to affect millions each year. But it’s more than just a case of the blues. Triggered by the September equinox and December solstice Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a mental health condition that’s a subtype of major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.¹ It affects up to 3% of the general population and up to 20% of people with depression or bipolar disorder. 

If you've ever been diagnosed by a medical professional with SAD, depression, or bipolar disorder, or if you just feel unwell when the seasons change, you may wonder what you can do to combat the gloom. Read on to learn more about SAD and how CBD may be able to help. 

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental health disorder that starts displaying symptoms when the seasons change. For most people, SAD typically takes hold in the fall and winter. However, about 10% of people with SAD may experience symptoms in the spring and summer months.

SAD shouldn't be confused with Social Affective Disorder, which shares the same acronym. Instead, people with SAD tend to experience feelings of prolonged sadness or disinterest, but only during certain months of the year. People with SAD typically also have other mental health conditions, such as an eating disorder, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, depression, bipolar disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder include loss of interest in activities, low moods, poor self-esteem, and decreased energy. For people with SAD, symptoms may persist up to 40% of the year, taking hold in the winter months and going away during spring and summer. People experiencing SAD in the winter may sleep more and gain weight. 

However, SAD is interesting because while it's common in many people, not everyone is impacted. According to a recent study, SAD impacts people on a biomechanical level.² People with SAD show different serotonin levels according to the seasons. Typically, people with other mental disorders are more likely to experience SAD, while others who feel the blues in the wintertime may just be experiencing low moods from environmental or personal circumstances. 

SAD & Serotonin Regulation 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to seasonal changes, typically occurring during the fall and winter when there is less natural sunlight. The exact cause of SAD is not well understood, but it is believed that changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, may play a role.³ 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in regulating mood, anxiety, and sleep.⁴ Low serotonin levels are associated with depression and anxiety disorders. The decreased sunlight during the fall and winter months can interfere with the body's natural circadian rhythms and melatonin production, which in turn, can affect the regulation of serotonin.⁵⁻⁶

Less sunlight can also reduce serotonin levels, which might contribute to symptoms of depression such as low mood, lack of energy, and difficulties with concentration and sleep. It can also increase the body’s melatonin production, a hormone that helps regulate sleep, which may lead to increased feelings of drowsiness and fatigue.⁷

It's important to note that SAD is a complex disorder with multiple etiologies, and the relationship between SAD, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters is still not fully understood. More research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms of SAD and the role of serotonin in its development and treatment.

Can CBD Help Manage SAD?

If you're here, you might be wondering what to do about the effects of SAD. Many doctors prescribe mood stabilizers or other medications to help with some symptoms, though many people may also opt for light therapy and different psychotherapies. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in the hemp plant and can offer potential therapeutic effects for various conditions, including anxiety and depression.⁸⁻⁹ Some studies have suggested that CBD may be beneficial for helping with some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

For example, evidence suggests that CBD may also play a role in serotonin regulation by working with the endocannabinoid system, or ECS.¹⁰ The ECS is a complex network of receptors and molecules that regulate various physiological processes, including mood, sleeping and waking cycles, immune system function, inflammation, and more.

Evidence suggests that CBD may interact with the ECS in a way that helps to balance the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, in the brain.¹¹ Serotonin plays a key role in regulating mood and anxiety and deficiencies are often associated with depression and anxiety disorders.

While more research is needed, CBD could aid in increased serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and reduced anxiety, potentially helping with some common feelings associated with SAD.

CBD also is thought to work through the ECS to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which might also contribute to the regulation of serotonin.¹² It's also believed that CBD may also increase the production and availability of endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring compounds in the body that bind to the same receptors as cannabinoids like CBD.¹³

More research is needed to fully understand CBD's effects on SAD. As always, it's best to talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment, including one with a supplement like CBD. It’s important to keep in mind that CBD is still being studied and shouldn't be used to treat any condition. 

How To Find Balance When Struggling With SAD

Aside from the science behind CBD and serotonin, CBD may be able to help you find balance in other ways that may be conducive to feeling your best when you're experiencing the troubles of SAD. 

CBD's relationship with the ECS may play a key role in regulating mood and helping you feel balanced. CBD is also believed to work through the ECS to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which may also contribute to low moods and fatigue. While CBD won't make depression or anxiety go away altogether, it may help you feel more balanced when you're going through tough times. Coupled with healthy eating, sleeping habits, and a few simple lifestyle changes, CBD may help you feel your best and support your overall daily wellness. 

For example, taking CBD fruit tarts in the morning and at night may help you keep your ECS functioning at its best, allowing you to feel less stressed, which may improve your energy levels and overall mood. If you feel stressed out at the end of a long day combatting low moods and fatigue, you might want to try CBD products specially formulated for stress. Regardless of what you opt for, Lazarus Naturals has you covered with wellness-driven products made with other functional ingredients that help you feel your best.