Ask Ruby: Is it true that CBD boosts serotonin?

November 28, 2021

Every month our resident CBD and cannabis expert Ruby Deevoy answers your questions in her agony aunt column Ask Ruby. If you have a burning question about CBD or cannabis get in touch: askruby@leafie.co.uk

Dear Ruby,

I read recently that taking CBD oil increases serotonin in the body – is this true?

Yes, this is absolutely true! Although CBD oil is perhaps most famously known for its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, this is actually just one of the mechanisms the CBD molecule uses to help promote balance. But, despite how much it’s talked about, CBD doesn’t directly activate the ECS – rather, it inhibits the enzyme which breaks down our endocannabinoids, thus increasing endocannabinoid levels in the body. Other cannabinoids, like THC and CBG (which can be found in full-spectrum products), do directly activate the receptors, essentially meaning they can stand in for deficient endocannabinoids, but CBD can’t.

However, the CBD molecule does directly activate serotonin receptors! As well as vanillioid receptors (involved in pain transmission), and partial activation of dopamine receptors (involved in the potential treatment of Parkinson’s), among other actions.

As you’re asking, you may already know that this can have a big impact on many bodily functions – both mental and physical. SSRI medications also work by increasing serotonin levels (albeit, by blocking the ‘mopping up’ of serotonin rather than activating the release of it), and these are regularly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, bulimia, fibromyalgia and other conditions. A serotonin deficiency is believed to cause anxiety, depression, muscle pain, headaches, insomnia and more. Many doctors, cannabinoid researchers and CBD users believe a high-quality CBD oil can be used in much the same way as SSRIs, but without the side effects they’re infamous for. 

One 2018 study demonstrated exciting promise for the treatment of the effects of chronic stress. The test rats showed that induced stress over the course of 24 days resulted in decreased serotonin activity. After seven days of treatment with CBD, these levels were completely normalised. However, CBD might not be the serotonin superstar in the cannabis plant! Preclinical trials have indicated that CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid – the raw version of CBD) potentially has an even stronger affinity to serotonin receptors than CBD, with one study showing CBDa to be 1000 times more effective at combating nausea and anxiety than CBD, via serotonin receptor activation.

With this action in mind, it’s also worth noting that serotonin plays a major role in digestion, regulating sexual function (including avoiding severe PMS or PMDD), sleep and many other things. So, keeping your serotonin levels healthy, whether that’s by taking CBD oil regularly or by other means, is vitally important for a huge range of reasons. And can be extremely beneficial to those with a serotonin deficit. 





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