Understanding the Role of Cannabis in Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

by | Nov 3, 2023 | Mental Health

SAD Cannabis

As the seasons change and the Fall and Winter sunlight hours grow shorter, some people find themselves feeling more tired than normal. Chronic fatigue is one of the common symptoms of many different diseases or conditions, but seasonal affective disorder may be a contributing factor.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that about 5% of adults living in the United States have seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Many of them, however, may not know they have the condition or understand what causes it.

For some people, SAD symptoms can last a few weeks, but for others, a biochemical imbalance in the brain is triggered by shorter daylight hours. Less sunlight in Fall and Winter can cause emotional problems and changes to energy levels that make work, socializing, and activities of daily living more difficult.

Since it is that time of the year again, let’s dig into the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. We will also take a look at some of the suggested treatments for the condition and whether certain strains of cannabis may help alleviate or reduce the severity of SAD symptoms.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a different type of depression that follows the changing of the seasons. For most people, SAD appears in the Fall and Winter months, as daylight hours become much shorter.

The medical theory about Seasonal Affective Disorder is that reduced exposure to sunlight, or natural light deprivation, can significantly disrupt the natural circadian rhythms of the human body. That may also impact the production of neurotransmitters, like serotonin and melatonin, which have a strong effect on our mood, Appetite, and energy levels.

While we all can feel “the winter blues,” someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder may struggle significantly. It can impact self-care, job performance, relationships, and overall physical and mental health.

Are Men or Women More Likely to Experience Symptoms of SAD?

Medical researchers are divided on whether gender impacts diagnostic rates of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some studies indicate that SAD is more prevalent among women, as there is a higher rate of diagnosis in the United States of female patients.

However, other researchers postulate that Men are more likely to ignore symptoms of low energy, irritability, and sleep cycle disorders than women. Men may also be hesitant to discuss any changes in mental well-being with a physician.

cannabis appetite

Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are many symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder that are identical to other types of health or mental health conditions. This may be one of the reasons why so many Americans do not recognize Seasonal Affective Disorder, mistaking it for depression symptoms instead.

Exposure to less natural sunlight can really do a number on your otherwise happy, energetic, and optimistic mood during the winter months. The most common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include the following:

Low Mood or Sadness

If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, one of the first symptoms you may notice is a severe change in your mood. If you are energetic and basically happy for the spring and summer months, but your mood swings to persistent feelings of sadness or lack of interest, you may have SAD.

People who live in cold regions where there is snow may also find that a vacation somewhere warm and sunny helps restore their normal energy level and mood. It can take several days of exposure to warmth and sunlight to improve symptoms of SAD.

Chronic Fatigue

If you are normally a very energetic person who wakes up ready to take on the world, and suddenly you feel like getting out of bed is a battle? You may be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Chronic fatigue is more than feeling tired after a busy day. It is the loss of normal energy that you usually have after you wake up. And no matter how many naps you have, you can’t seem to recharge your batteries.

The chronic fatigue aspect of Seasonal Affective Disorder can also be affected by changes in nutrition and dietary habits during the winter months. For example, during the summer, people eat more salads, fruits, and vegetables and may hydrate with water better because of the hot temperatures.

However, during the winter, diets lean more toward heavy carbohydrates or comfort foods, which may not be as nutritious. This can also exacerbate symptoms of chronic fatigue associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Problems With Focus and Concentration

Changes in hormones, sleep patterns, and mood can have a big impact on our ability to focus and concentrate at home, at work, or in school. This can cause a significant disruption in productivity that can lead to problems and feelings of frustration and guilt.

Increased or Persistent Irritability

Grumpiness happens, and it can be a bad day, week or month. There are random triggers daily that can leave us feeling frustrated and irritable, but the emotions are generally transient. Bad moods go away with a nap, some rest, relaxation, or leisure.

But persistent irritability that doesn’t go away may be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder. If your mood changes significantly and you find yourself frequently irritated for the smallest reasons, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Increased or Decreased Appetite

Sometimes, when you feel tired, you may be compelled to eat more. Having snacks or treats stimulates an increase in dopamine levels and other hormones that can temporarily make you feel happy, satisfied, and less stressed.

Other people may find that they lose their appetite when they are feeling overwhelmed, tired, and emotionally upset. Seasonal Affective Disorder can present both symptoms of overeating and loss of appetite.

Sleeping More Than Normal

Mood and energy levels are not the only things that may be impacted by SAD, as sleep disorders may also occur. The change in daylight savings time is more than a simple inconvenience, as some people may experience a disrupted internal body clock.

Lack of sleep can also contribute to symptoms of seasonal depression and have a negative impact on mental well-being. Some strains of medical marijuana may reduce the severity of chronic pain and temporarily alleviate anxiety to help improve sleep.

Grumpiness Seasonal Affective Disorder

Social Withdrawal and Loss of Interest in Activities Previously Enjoyed

When the weather gets cold and the days get shorter, chances are you feel like staying home more. Especially if you live in an area where you have to battle snow or ice to get around, this is fairly normal behavior to reduce how often you go out in the Winter months.

But if you find yourself avoiding friends and family or dodging social invites to spend time with people you enjoy, it may be the sign of something more than a dislike for cold weather. Being around people you care about can also elevate dopamine levels; social isolation can make symptoms of seasonal depression worse.

Random Aches and Pains

Do you know the difference between an average cold and influenza? One of the signs is the presence of aches and pains that are only associated with having the flu. However, some people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also experience the same type of aches and pains.

There are several causes of random aches and pains for people with SAD:

  • Muscle tension can build up from feelings of upset or stress. Some people with Seasonal Affective Disorder experience pain in the neck, shoulders, and back as a result of increased anxiety and muscle tension.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder can impact the normal functioning of neurotransmitters like serotonin. When this happens, the human body can become more sensitive to discomfort and amplify feelings of minor aches and pain.
  • When you are not feeling normal emotionally and you are experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue, your motivation to head outside or to the gym may disappear during the winter months. When your lifestyle becomes more sedentary than normal, lack of muscle movement can also contribute to discomfort and stiffness.

Aches and pains may be more frequent during the winter months for other reasons, including the impact of cold temperatures, which can exacerbate arthritis, for example. But if you notice that your aches and pains are predominantly in winter months and not during the rest of the year, have a conversation with your doctor about Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Can Medical Marijuana Help With Symptoms of SAD?

If you have a medical card and have spent time exploring different strains, you already know that some types of cannabis can help with specific symptoms. While cannabis is not a treatment to resolve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it may help you moderate some of the common symptoms.

1. Stimulating Appetite

Do some research about strains of cannabis that are known for stimulating Appetite. Many patients with different health conditions that reduce Appetite (like Cachexia) rely on cannabis to make them feel hungry. Or to reduce symptoms of nausea that prevent them from eating.

2. Natural Mood Boost

Sativa-dominant strains can make you feel happy, energetic, and social. In fact, some strains can turn a shy person into a real conversationalist. If low mood is a struggle for you, cannabis may help by elevating your mood to combat feelings of sadness or depression.

3. Help With Anxiety Reduction

Anxiety can make you feel like everything is not okay and cause a persistent state of worrying about things in the past or what might happen in the future. Medical cannabis doesn’t resolve feelings of anxiety, but it can pause them for a period of time and promote ease and relaxation.

happy fall winter

4. Better Pain Symptom Management

If you experience chronic pain, you never know what the day holds for you when you get out of bed. Will it be a mild day, or will your symptoms of pain be so severe that it will impede everything you need to do?

Chronic pain is frustrating and exhausting to cope with on a regular basis. Some Indica dominant strains can be very effective at lowering the volume of pain, if not temporarily resolving it, and you can have a break from pain symptoms and get back to feeling like yourself again.

5. Improved Sleep Quality

Two symptoms that have a negative impact on sleep quality are pain and anxiety. If you have chronic pain, you may find yourself waking up throughout the night in discomfort. Anxiety can also make it hard to wind down and fall asleep. Some strains of cannabis may be effective at temporarily alleviating symptoms of anxiety, which may promote better sleep.

Natural Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Naturally, there are some treatments for patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder. But for some people, the medications to combat seasonal affective disorder can also cause side effects that are equal to, or worse than, the untreated symptoms of SAD.

Conventional treatments for SAD may include talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and prescription medications with antidepressant qualities. There are consumer devices for light therapy at home, but it is unclear whether light therapy is an effective treatment to balance serotonin and dopamine levels.

Suppose you have tried other treatments without success, and you would like to try doctor-supervised medical cannabis. In that case, some symptoms of SAD, such as chronic pain and depression, can make you eligible for a medical card. With medical cannabis, you can share your symptoms with a cannabis healthcare provider for advice on strains and intake methods that may help you cope better with SAD.

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