Welcome to autumn! This is a wonderful season in Alaska, when families gather for holidays that come one after another, pumpkin spice makes its return, we can finally stop mowing the lawn, and everyone is happy to see snow falling because it brings us closer to skiing, sledding, and snowmachining. (We’ll have a decidedly different reaction when it snows in April.) Yet, autumn also brings a significant shortage of light compared to just a few months ago when the sun stayed up until past bedtime. That lack of sunlight can lead many Alaskans to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is associated with symptoms like low energy, sadness, irritability, and more. But because SAD is related to mental health, there is great potential for CBD to help. Why? Let’s take a look.
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What Is SAD and Why Does It Affect Us?
For the record, the American Psychiatric Association lists seasonal affective disorder as a form of depression and estimates that it affects approximately 5% of the U.S. adult population and lasts about 40% of the year. When it comes to that 5% number, keep in mind how much of the US is in the Sunbelt.
Here at the top of the globe, far from the middle of the Earth, Alaska tilts radically towards and away from the sun as the seasons change. Autumn is the period of transition from long summer days filled with warm, glorious sunlight to cold, winter days with less than four hours of sunlight. In communities north of Fairbanks, the extremes are even more extreme, and the sun never sets at the height of summer and never rises during the depths of winter. Pure light to pure dark.
This change can cause mental health issues. Researchers believe exposure to sunlight causes your brain to release serotonin and darkness tells your brain to release melatonin. Both are hormones (chemicals) your brain uses for internal communication, with serotonin signalling you to be happy and melatonin signalling you to be sleepy.
So, here in Alaska, we go from months of being bombarded with hormones telling us to be awake and happy to months of hormones telling us to go to sleep. As you can imagine, it can be difficult to function effectively at work or any other activity when your brain and body are being told to shut down. Serotonin is also largely thought to be closely related to reduction of depression, so the sudden absence of serotonin likely leads to stronger feelings of depression.
In other words, you’re not imagining things: When the summer sun goes away and autumn darkness arrives, your brain produces chemicals that make you feel tired, even depressed, and at the very least, not bursting with energy. It’s a wonder we don’t all hibernate with the bears.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
As with just about any condition affecting our mental health, different people experience SAD differently. Some of the commonly reported symptoms are:
- depression, often lasting most of the day
- loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
- low energy
- trouble sleeping (ironically) or the opposite, oversleeping
- changes in appetite, including binge eating and craving energy-producing carbs
- trouble concentrating
- feeling hopeless
- feeling worthless
- thoughts of suicide
If you have thoughts of suicide, please tell someone close to you who will help, or your doctor or psychiatrist, or call the Alaska Careline at 1-877-266-4357. You can even call 911 for help or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments
It’s fairly normal to experience some or even all of the other symptoms at various times. People generally write them off as a run-of-the-mill case of the “winter blues.” But SAD is a chemical change in the brain, and there are steps we can take to help our brain – and attitude – adjust to the season.
Traditionally, severe cases of seasonal affective disorder have been treated with antidepressant prescription medications and talk-therapy psychiatry. A less extreme and more commonplace option is light therapy, which usually comes in the form of a SAD lamp. This artificial light replicates the effects of sunlight and stimulates your brain’s release of serotonin to make you feel better. SAD lamps are easily available online or in stores, but we advise performing some due diligence to ensure you’re getting a high-quality lamp that does what it’s supposed to do. (BTW, tanning beds do not work for SAD). And any chance you get during the day, go outside and soak up some natural sunlight.
But here’s one of the most promising recent findings: According to Harvard Medical School, exercise has been shown to be as effective as prescription meds in alleviating depression because exercise increases concentrations of cannabinoids in the brain, a sensation you may know as “runner’s high.” And why is that promising? Because CBD is a cannabinoid.
A Quick Review: The Endocannabinoid System and CBD
We’ve written fairly extensively here on this blog about cannabinoids, which are part of an extensive system of communication between your brain and body, a sort of parallel or twin to your nervous system. Whereas your nervous system uses electrical signals to control mental activity and send commands to your body parts, the endocannabinoid system uses chemicals (cannabinoids) for communication. An increase of cannabinoids can cause positive changes in your mental health – and even physical wellbeing – such as reduced pain, sedation, relaxation, reduction of stress or anxiety, and an overall sense of wellbeing.
The cannabinoids produced by the human body have a structural similarity to molecules in the cannabis plant. Here at Red Raven CBD, we are able to harness the healing powers of the cannabis plant without its intoxicating effects by making our CBD from hemp, not marijuana, which enables us to isolate CBD with extremely low levels of THC.
So, bottom line: Can CBD be used to treat SAD?
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder with CBD
Unfortunately, cannabis as a medicinal treatment still lacks enough clinical research for us to be able to make substantiated claims about its efficacy. The good news is it is being studied all over the world by leading medical institutions, and there are dozens of ongoing studies, many of which point to CBD having the potential to help with mental health conditions, such as depression, including SAD.
The cannabinoid CBD affects the same areas of the brain that produce serotonin, the very thing missing when we have a lack of sunlight.
Many of our customers use CBD as part of a multi-faceted approach to alleviating the so-called “winter blues” by flooding their endocannabinoid system with plant-produced cannabinoids while also pursuing a healthy lifestyle. As mentioned above, physical activities (and we have many, many opportunities here in the Great Land to get out and play in the snow) are certainly an important part of that. But there are also others.
Essentially, anything that makes you feel good releases serotonin in your brain. In fact, studies show that just hugging someone releases serotonin in your brain. So, spend time with your friends and loved ones, get your exercise, eat a healthy diet, and pay attention to your mood. Do the things that stimulate your brain’s “feel good” hormone, serotonin. More than anything, remember that there’s nothing wrong with you – it really is the season.
Discover the Potential of CBD Products
Red Raven CBD products give you the confidence of knowing you’re getting pure CBD sourced from legal, American hemp. You can shop our collection of CBD oil, including both full spectrum and THC-free options, gummies, and topicals.
Apart from selling high-quality CBD products end educating our community on the many benefits of CBD, one of our main missions at Red Raven is making CBD accessible to Alaskans in every corner of the state. We know not all of our Alaska customers have easy access to a dispensary, but you can find many of products through independent retailers. And you can access our full product lineup online, so you can have CBD shipped straight to your door just in time for changing seasons.
Want to learn more about what CBD can do? Contact us with any questions.