Postpartum (or postnatal) depression is a mood disorder that affects many new parents, and new moms in particular. Scientists are yet to establish a cause for this condition, which can induce intense feelings of sadness and anxiety. And unfortunately, the lack of attention that this area receives means moms are often left to deal with postpartum depression themselves – the anxiety can also cause feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment which can make a new mother reluctant to speak out and seek a suitable treatment.
Anti-depressants are available; however, these can be accompanied with harsh side effects. Counselling is also recommended and talking therapy can certainly help to get to the root of anxieties and various uncomfortable emotions. But interestingly, an increasing number of new moms are turning to medical cannabis and specifically the primary non-psychoactive component of the plant, cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD is a therapeutic compound that doesn’t produce any of the psychoactive effects cannabis is historically known for, and there is growing evidence that this cannabinoid exhibits anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. A 2014 study from the Institute of Psychiatry at the Federal University of Rio concluded that CBD had these effects by reviewing animal studies which looked at these aspects of the compound.
Cannabis scientists made a significant breakthrough in the 1990s, with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which we now know is responsible for regulating a plethora of mental and physiological functions in the body. It just so happens that cannabinoids, a group of compounds found almost uniquely in the cannabis plant, can interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the ECS.
America’s Postpartum Depression Problem
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered some worrying data during a study conducted between 2004 and 2005, estimating that around 600,000 American women were battling the condition. This figure was reached by asking mothers in 17 states to take part in a self-reporting study.
The research found that around 1 in 7 new US moms either had or had gone through postpartum depression, with the condition affecting young mothers and those with low incomes and education levels more than most. Researchers have speculated that the extent of the postpartum depression could be even greater, given that it was a self-reporting study. Not to mention, new moms whose symptoms reflected postpartum anxiety more than postpartum depression were not considered by this research.
Depression can be a very difficult mental disorder to overcome on its own, and the pressure and responsibility of being a new mother can make things even tougher. The CDC has noted doubting one’s ability to be a successful mother, guilt for “not being a good mom” and feelings of disconnect from the baby as common symptoms of postpartum depression. Sadly, Postpartum Progress reports that around 85 percent of new moms with PPD do not seek professional help for their condition – perhaps some of this is due to a mother not even knowing that they are experiencing a pain which is ultimately treatable.
The decision to take a cannabis-derived medicine as a new mom can be challenging, even despite the gradually declining stigma surrounding the herb. Many are still unaware about the non-psychoactive potential of cannabis, and that it’s now possible to get the plant’s therapeutic benefits without feeling high. Furthermore, the argument that cannabis can cause memory problems and cognitive impairment no longer holds, with CBD and other cannabinoids, such as cannabigerol (CBG), displaying neuroprotective properties.
However, before going further, it is important to point out that research into cannabis and new mothers is thin on the ground, and that concerns about the psychoactive THC compound are very valid. It would not be recommended for a new mother to take THC, even though there is no research to suggest that cannabinoids pose a neonatal risk.
But even for treating general depression, THC can be problematic, with the compound inducing anxiety and paranoia in some due to its stifling of the GABA transmitter. GABA has a calming effect on the brain, and interestingly GABA receptor activation helps CBD to produce its anxiolytic effects. It’s important to realize that until recently, researchers had nowhere near this level of understanding of cannabis, and how it can be harnessed safely to eliminate side effects. Now various strains are developed, some high in CBD, others high in THC to combat various conditions.
However, a 2005 study found that endocannabinoids – cannabinoid-like compounds made by the human body – are present in breastmilk. Whether phytocannabinoids from cannabis could affect this is unknown, but it is a crucial area for future research.
Therefore, it’s understandable that a new mother would be apprehensive about medicating with any kind of cannabis, even if it’s non-psychoactive. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted that the breastfeeding process can be stressful enough as it is for new moms with postpartum depression. That said, there is the potential for a CBD-rich cannabis oil product to ease a mother’s depression and improve her confidence as a parent beyond breastfeeding.
PPD can have a detrimental effect on a new mother’s ability to form a strong bond with her baby. Therefore, if it’s possible that CBD can help with that, then it’s worth considering. Using formulated milk over breastfed milk is perhaps a better option for a mother than battling on without a treatment for PPD and not making that vital attachment with her new-born. Of course, for those that see breastfeeding as an absolute necessity, CBD may not be the solution. But there is no strict guide to parenting and many mothers who have embraced CBD are delighted with the results.
Global CBD told the story of a new mother who uses cannabis products that contain 99 percent CBD and no THC to manage her PPD. In a video on Vimeo, she comments how the CBD helped reduce anxiety, back pain and more. And perhaps most importantly, it allowed her to be “relaxed with her kids.
Isolated CBD may be preferable to whole-plant cannabis
In the battle for cannabis legalization, activists have always zoned in on the benefits over whole-plant and full-spectrum extracts over products where the cannabinoids have been isolated. This is because the synergy created by all 400-plus cannabis compounds interacting may enhance the overall therapeutic value of cannabis. However, in the case of postpartum depression, an isolated CBD oil tincture, or one that also contains non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBG, could be better. Not least because an isolate is less complex and therefore better understood, enabling mothers to medicate with increased confidence.
It’s important for any young mother suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety to speak with a doctor before contemplating self-medication. While the World Health Organization deemed that CBD “does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm” in December 2017, it’s possible that the compound may influence other medication due to its effects on the metabolism. Furthermore, medication is not always the best remedy for patients with mental health disorders, with talking therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sometimes proving better.
But it seems clear that, when used responsibly, CBD can have a positive effect for new mothers who are afflicted with postpartum depression, anxiety and more.