Understanding the Side Effects of Antidepressants

Pharmaceutical antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat depression and other mental health conditions. While they can be highly effective, they have a number of short-term and long-term side effects that can be concerning for many patients. In this blog post, we will explore the short- and long-term side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Common Short-Term Side Effects of Antidepressants 

The most common short-term side effects of taking antidepressant medications include nausea, dry mouth, insomnia, headache, anxiety, agitation or restlessness, sexual dysfunction (decreased libido or difficulty achieving an orgasm), weight gain or loss, increased heart rate and blurred vision. These symptoms may vary from person to person and are not always indicative of a serious problem; however, if they persist or become more severe over time it is important to contact your healthcare provider.

Long-Term Side Effects of Antidepressants 

In addition to the above-mentioned side effects there is increasing evidence to suggest that long term use of antidepressants may lead to changes in brain chemistry over time. Several studies have indicated that after as little as 6 weeks of treatment with SSRI's (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) there has been a decrease in hippocampal volume which could potentially lead to memory impairment and decline in cognitive functioning over time. Long term use of antidepressant medications has also been linked to increased risk of stroke among elderly people who take them over a period of several years. The exact mechanism behind this association is still unclear but there is evidence that suggests it is related to changes in blood pressure due to these medications. Lastly, long term use of antidepressants has been associated with an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes due to changes in blood glucose levels caused by these drugs.

Scientists May Have Finally Discovered “How” These Drugs Impact Cognition

Anxiety meds may impact the brain’s microglial cells, which in turn interfere with dendritic spines – a critical part of our brain’s neurons. Over time, taking these anxiety medications cumulatively impacts the part of the brain that electrifies and activates cells. They ultimately impact the functioning of the neuronal networks in the brain. Researchers tested with diazepam – a common anxiety medication. The findings likely explain the side effects of chronic fatigue and even dementia – due to the microglial cells. Experts describe it as frying the wires in a machine. If the wires become damaged, they may work slower- if not at all. Anti-anxiety drugs can interfere with a person's neurons and increase their risk of cognitive decline later in life. The longer you are on these medications, the increased probability you will experience similar issues.

Are Antidepressants Right for You?

Antidepressant medications can be an effective way for treating mental health conditions such as depression, but it is important for patients who are taking them to be aware not only about the potential short-term side effects but also the potential long-term ones as well. If you are currently taking an antidepressant medication or considering starting one it is important that you consult with your healthcare provider about any potential risks so that you can make an informed decision before beginning treatment.

Millions of Americans use these medications, and this risk has long been known. Most meds come with many downstream impacts (many unknown) and is important to consider when you are considering pros/cons. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) as an Alternative to Antidepressants

CBD products that contain a high level of CBD and a low level of THC have been found to be most effective for depression. 

Several research studies have looked at whether CBD can help with depression:

  • A 2019 study examined CBD’s effects on depression among male and female rats. The researchers had rats consume 30mg/kg of CBD and then evaluated their coping abilities while completing a test. The study concluded that CBD helped reduce helplessness in the rats, which is a common symptom of depression.
  • A 2020 study exposed rats to various stressors while treating them with CBD over a 28-day period. The researchers evaluated the rats for depression and anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure) and found that CBD helped decrease these symptoms.
  • A 2018 study of medical cannabis users had them track their symptoms and doses and then analyzed these results. The study revealed that cannabis helped reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Users reported a 50% reduction in symptoms of depression. The researchers also found that a high amount of CBD (>9.5%) and low amount of THC (<5.5%) produced the largest improvements in depression. 
  • A 2019 case study of an adolescent with multiple substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety found that CBD treatment over an 8-week period resulted in a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms. The person was also able to attain abstinence from all substances and stop taking antidepressant medications. 

Interested in learning more about CBD as an alternative to Antidepressants? Read our blog on How CBD Affects Mental Health: A Closer Look At The Studies.

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