7 Alternative Treatments
for Anxiety and Depression
By The Sacred Plant Research Team
Depression is a serious mental illness affecting many in the U.S. and around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression1 affects more than 300 million people globally.
To put that number in perspective2, more than four percent of the world’s population is struggling with some form of depression.
Anxiety is another serious3 mental health condition that affects millions of people both in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, it’s not uncommon for patients to be diagnosed with both depression and anxiety.
The NIMH estimates4 that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder over the course of any year. According to Anxiety.org, more than 19 million5 Americans are affected by social anxiety, and more than 30 percent of adults will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Particularly concerning is that anxiety disorders affect almost 32 percent of adolescents4.
Even more worrying is the strong6 connection between anxiety, depression, and suicide.
In 2017, 1.4 million people attempted suicide in the U.S. — tragically, 47,173 of those attempts were successful. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 90 percent7 of the people that commit suicide show symptoms of mental illness. Depression and anxiety happen to be two of the most common3 mental health conditions.
Experts agree8 that treating anxiety and depression is the key to helping prevent suicide and helping people heal.
Depression and Anxiety Treatments are Big Business
Mental health care is a multibillion-dollar business in America. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that mental health treatments cost the U.S. $467 billion9 in 2012. Globally, the World Economic Forum estimates worldwide costs will reach $6 trillion9 by 2030.
With the rising10 numbers in diagnoses and traditional pharmaceutical treatment costs, you may be wondering…
What are these treatments and are they actually working?
Traditional Depression Treatments
Treatments for depression vary by type, severity, and any other conditions that require medical care. The most common practices for reducing and eliminating symptoms11 are medications and psychotherapy.
There are three main types12 of antidepressants:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — Serotonin is a neurotransmitter13 (a chemical in the brain that transports messages) that helps control appetite, mood, sleep, and pain. SSRIs reduce14 the symptoms of depression by increasing the serotonin levels in the brain.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) — These increase the levels of the serotonin in the brain by blocking the brain from reabsorbing15 them along with norepinephrine16, another neurotransmitter or chemical in the brain that transports messages. Practitioners often prescribe SSRIs or SNRIs before trying TCAs is because TCAs often have more17 side effects.
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) — As mentioned above, serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters or chemicals in the brain that transport messages. SNRIs are similar18 to SSRIs but, they block the reabsorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine.
Downsides of Antidepressants
Each type of antidepressant can reduce symptoms and help patients manage depression. However, practitioners can’t guarantee antidepressants will be successful for all patients. According to an article19 by Harvard Medical School, studies show 45 to 55 percent of patients with major depression do NOT respond positively to either type of medication, even over a course of 6 to 12 weeks.
While antidepressants are a common medication, they don’t reduce symptoms immediately. Most antidepressants take20 between two and four weeks to start showing signs of improvement. There are also considerations when dealing with patients under 25, as they have a history21 of increasing suicidal thoughts in some children, adolescents, and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
According to the Mayo Clinic22, common side effects of antidepressants include:
• Weight gain
• Sexual dysfunction
• Daytime drowsiness
• Dry mouth
• Blurred vision
• Increased anxiety
It’s important to note that side effects vary from patient to patient and may go away after a few weeks. However, it is widely accepted that once on these strong medications, stopping them is a challenge and should be clinically monitored, as the withdrawal symptoms can be severe23.
Traditional Anxiety Treatments
Like depression, anxiety is treatable. Unfortunately, less than 40 percent3 of the adolescents and adults suffering from this illness are receiving treatment.
The most common treatments for anxiety are a combination24 of medication and psychotherapy, just as with with depression. A practitioner25 may also recommend talk therapy, which is a form of psychotherapy before using a prescription. Types of pharmaceutical approaches for anxiety include:
Antidepressants — As mentioned, depression and anxiety are often diagnosed together which is why many of the antidepressants26 that practitioners can prescribe have the potential to treat both. Practitioners prefer27 to treat anxiety with SSRIs instead of TCAs, because they are generally considered safer and more tolerable.
As discussed above, patients should be aware of the substantial number of side effects26 that can occur when using these medications.
Anti-Anxiety Medications — In more severe cases or if other treatment options don’t work, your practitioner may prescribe anti-anxiety medications. These medications, known as benzodiazepines28, are a central nervous system depressant. These powerful sedatives can lead to dependency, and overdoses29, which even if accidental can be fatal.
Medical Cannabis and Other Alternatives for Treating Depression and Anxiety*
Besides the dangers and side effects30 discussed above, traditional treatments hold the potential for negative interactions between medications, such as anti-anxiety medications, and medicines for related conditions, such as those for pain.
Given these potentially deadly drug interactions, and the other down sides of strong medications, it’s understandable that patients may look for a safer alternative31, instead of mixing pharmaceuticals. Luckily, there are a fair number of alternatives to pharmaceutical prescriptions for depression and anxiety, alternatives which don’t carry the same side effects, and can be very effective31.
One very powerful alternative treatment for depression and anxiety is medical cannabis32,33,34.
You may have heard the myth that cannabis can lead to mental illness and depression. But studies show that while some people can develop depression and other mental health issues from using cannabis recreationally, the majority of those people already have underlying conditions35 that were aggravated by it.
You may have also heard that cannabis can cause anxiety disorders. However, research shows this isn’t correct.
In February 2019, researchers36 from Canada and Oxford University in the UK released the results of a major study about teenage cannabis use and future mental health issues. While they did find a connection between high doses of THC among recreational users under the age of 18 had the potential to increase the chances of developing a depressive disorder as an adult, the study found no36 significant connection to cannabis use leading to anxiety disorders. Also, according to Dr. Cipriani, one of the study’s authors explained, “. . . individual factors like family history and other life stresses still played a bigger role.”
Dr. David Bearman, a medical cannabis expert who’s appeared in both The Sacred Plant’s docuseries and the Healing Pain Masterclass, frequently recommends cannabis for treating anxiety. In an interview with Practicalpainmanagement.com, Dr. Bearman37 states, “Some of the more frequent reasons for cannabinoid medicine specialists (or other physicians) to recommend cannabis is to treat pain and to treat anxiety.”
In the Journal of Affective Disorders August 2018 volume, researchers38 using data from StrainprintTM, an app that allows medical cannabis patients to track symptoms and doses, found that 58 percent of users reported a reduction in anxiety with two puffs of a high CBD/low THC plant composition.
Other alternatives or complementary39 treatments that people suffering from anxiety or depression can use along with medical cannabis are:
• Talk therapy40. In many cases, this type of therapy41 can be very successful with mild forms of depression.
• Meditation — According to Womenshealthmag.com42, meditation can be very effective in reducing anxiety through breathing techniques and better self-awareness.
• Dietary changes — Different foods to try that can naturally relieve anxiety43 such as Brazil nuts, or avoid because they increase anxiety44, like caffeine and foods high in sodium.
• Fish Oil (Omega-3s) — Studies show that patients taking fish oil45 supplements can decrease the symptoms of depression. Similar to how it helps people with depressive disorders, studies46 show that fish oil supplements help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
• Yoga — Medical professionals47 consider yoga a good supplemental treatment for depression. It helps patients learn new responses to stress that can also reduce48 symptoms.
• Acupuncture — Acupuncture is an ancient49 Chinese healing method that’s still being used around the world today for dozens of conditions, including depression.
*Important Note: Before stopping any medications or making changes to your medical treatment, always consult with a physician.
Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Pain and Medical Cannabis
You may not be aware of it, but there’s a substantial connection between depression, anxiety, and chronic pain which, when you take a closer look, is understandable — chronic pain IS depressing50 and can lead to poor quality sleep, anxiety over employment and financial issues, as well as problems in your personal relationships.
For these patients, the key to reducing and even completely eliminating the symptoms of depression and anxiety is to treat the pain.
Cannabis can treat depression and anxiety, and it can also treat pain conditions.
This means that patients can trade anywhere from one to three or more pharmaceuticals (or at least reduce their dosages) for one, natural medication – cannabis – under physician supervision.
There are several studies that show that patients can significantly reduce different types of pain51,including nerve pain in patients with multiple sclerosis52 and the breakthrough pain53 that’s common for cancer patients using high doses of opioids.
Along with the pain-reducing properties of cannabis54, it also has the potential to naturally help patients fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. When you reduce or eliminate pain and improve the quality of sleep, oftentimes the symptoms of depression and anxiety are greatly reduced.
The bottom line for patients:
It’s not uncommon for practitioners to immediately prescribe pharmaceuticals as treatment, without considering alternatives. Some consider the fact that many physicians55 work directly with sales reps to promote certain prescription medications to their patients.
As a consumer, and patient, it’s valuable to be aware that you have other choices that can be just as effective as the medicines at your local pharmacy – choices that do not include many of the associated dangers of those drugs. In some cases, these alternative choices can be better overall for your health than traditional pharmaceuticals that have a lengthy list of side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
To learn more about natural alternatives to antidepressants and antianxiety medications your doctor isn’t telling you about, sign up today for the Depression, Anxiety, and Brain Secrets FREE 10 episode docuseries beginning on March 11.