Thanks in great part to forthcoming celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and social media connecting more parents than ever before, the subject of postpartum depression (PPD) is becoming less stigmatized. And it's about time, considering the fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research, nationally, about one in nine women experience symptoms, although in some states, the prevalence is as many as one in five. Meanwhile, research out of the University of British Columbia found that nearly 17 percent of new moms are diagnosed with postpartum anxiety (PPA).
With so many cases, it's no wonder more people are exploring their options. While prescription antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals might be an option for some, many are gravitating to CBD, or cannabidiol. The component of either a marijuana or hemp plant is non-psychoactive, unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)—which only comes from marijuana—and has been popping up in therapeutic products that boast anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsant, and antidepressant properties.
Here's what you need to know about CBD for PPD.
What the Science Says
Although excitement about CBD is reaching a fever pitch these days, published research data on its efficacy for treatment of PPD is lacking, says Felice Gersh, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist's Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness.
"CBD has anecdotal reports that it can help improve mood disorders, and there is a small amount of scientific data to support its use for depression, and more data supporting its use for anxiety," Dr. Gersh notes.
How does it work? Researchers believe the mechanism by which CBD might offer significant mood benefits involves its ability to turn certain receptors of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) on or off. The ECS' purpose: To maintain bodily homeostasis, or restore balance while controlling stress and pain, according to Mary Clifton, M.D., an internal medicine doctor in New York City.
Dr. Gersh elaborates, "CBD may affect the receptors which are involved with serotonin, a powerful neurotransmitter related to mood. here are endocannabinoid receptors throughout the female brain and CBD has the potential to improve brain healthy function and calm nerves."
Additionally, research has shown that PPD sufferers have 5-HT1A receptors, a subtype of serotonin receptor, that are less likely to bind to the feel-good neurotransmitter.
"It is possible that women who have been diagnosed with postpartum depression may not be triggering that happiness/well-being biosignal pathway," says Robert Flannery, PhD, founder of Dr. Robb Farms. "More research is definitely needed here, but the pieces are in place to form a testable hypothesis that states that the use of a compound—ahem, such as CBD, ahem—could help trigger that happiness pathway for patients who for some reason or another have trouble triggering that pathway."
What Experts Say
Experts warn that people should always seek medical support as opposed to self-diagnosis or self-treatment when it comes to postpartum depression. It's important to remember that clinical PPD is a serious medical diagnosis that should not be taken lightly, points out Syeda Amna Husain, M.D., FAAP, founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics.
"Treatment should be sought as soon as possible, and I highly recommend patients steer toward proven treatment, which is generally a three-pronged approach: social support, psychotherapy and medication," Dr. Husain says. "Symptoms of mild PPD can often be managed with just social support and talk therapy, but if someone is struggling with moderate or severe postpartum depression, they should consider medication. There are many medication options which are very safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding, and people can discuss these options with their medical provider."
When it comes to using CBD products to treat postpartum depression, the lack of research raises a bevy of safety questions for most doctors.
"Powerful plants can impact any and all aspects of the baby's development," Dr. Gersh points out. "As receptors for the endocannabinoid system are widespread throughout the body, along with other receptors that CBD may interact with, it's simply unknown what long-term effects may be created by the use of CBD in a nursing mom or a pregnant woman."
That said, anyone who is nursing their child would do well to steer clear of CBD products. If you're not nursing? You could be a perfect candidate for CBD when it comes to managing chronic pain, depression, anxiety or insomnia, Dr. Clifton says. She also notes that, apart from nursing and an allergy to CBD or cannabis, there are no significant safety concerns.
The Best Way to Use CBD
Start by seeking medical advice from a health care provider who can discuss the potential benefits or risks of trying CBD to treat postpartum depression.
"Ask what they know about CBD," Frank advises. "If your doctor is not familiar with CBD, I’d seek out a practitioner that is. If a woman is struggling with PPD and she's looking for options, she should explore them all and make the choice that best aligns with her goals for physical, mental and emotional well-being."
If you get the green light from your doctor, Dr. Clifton advises that patients who are just starting out to try a CBD tincture, which will offer rapid onset relief (usually within nine minutes).
"When you're taking a gummy bear or soft gel, the oral ingestion can take up to 90 minutes for onset of action, and that's often too long to tell if the product is working for you," she notes. "Once you determine what dose works for you, switching to a soft gel is often easier for some individuals."
Bear in mind that mild anxiety seems more responsive to CBD than depression does, Dr. Gersh notes. But anyone who is postpartum and suffering from depression would do well to seek professional guidance.
Megan Ellow, LCSW, who sees patients at Nest Counseling & Wellness, a private practice that focuses on perinatal mental health, agrees. "CBD, like other adjunctive treatments, could be a great option if someone finds it helpful for depression or anxiety," says Ellow. "But postpartum mood and anxiety disorders often have many other layers to it which should be addressed through more evidenced based treatment options such as social support and talk therapy. Many cases of PPD or PPA are not just treating the depressive or anxious feelings but about addressing the huge loss of identity many new parents face, the deep isolation that parents feel when cooped up with a baby or the pain of unresolved childhood wounds. CBD doesn't address those deeper issues."
The Bottom Line
Seeking medical help for postpartum depression is essential for getting the right treatment, and anyone considering using CBD postpartum should consult their health care provider as they'll be familiar with your medical history, notes Maggie Frank, a mom who is also the National Educator for PlusCBD Oil.