Herbal Medicine

A recent study on the use of cannabis extracts to treat mental illness got us started thinking again about the whole field of herbal and “natural” medicine.  Cannabis is currently experiencing an explosion of interest and some robust research is being done.  However the interest is running far ahead of the available data about real uses and effects of various extracts of the cannabis plant.


A review of 83 high quality studies found little evidence of positive results in the use of cannabinoids for common mental illnesses.  The authors write: “there is scarce evidence to suggest that cannabinoids improve depressive disorders and symptoms, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, or psychosis. There is very low quality evidence that pharmaceutical THC (with or without CBD) leads to a small improvement in symptoms of anxiety among individuals with other medical conditions. There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders within a regulatory framework. Further high-quality studies directly examining the effect of cannabinoids on treating mental disorders are needed.”1

Moodsurfing has explored the topic of marijuana use to treat mood disorders before, and we have also found that it can be helpful for anxiety in some situations, but it tends to destabilize moods and be associated with more rapid cycling from depression to mania.  As the above authors comment, more research is needed (and more is coming out each month), in particular considering the differing effects of different components of the plant.

Other Herbal Remedies and Supports

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort has been extensively studied for its effect especially on depression.  In general, it is not very effective for moderate to severe depression, but has been shown to help with mild depression and seasonal affective disorder.  There have been some side effects reported, such as light sensitivity, and sometimes mild gastro-intestinal distress or skin rash.  It may have unwanted interactions with a wide variety of prescription medications, so check with your medical practitioner if any of your prescriptions are implicated.  St. John’s wort needs to be taken over a long period of time, it doesn’t act immediately.


Lavender2 is used as a tea and the essential oil is sometimes used as an inhalant.  Care should be taken since some people have allergic reactions to the smell of lavender.  It is used for stress, anxiety, mild depression and insomnia.  As with other herbal remedies, dosage is an important consideration.  A cup of strongly-brewed tea may be taken up to four times a day in order to have a beneficial effect.3 A recent review of clinical trials suggests that CalmAid, a specific extract from lavender manufactured in Germany (where supplements are more stringently regulated than in the US) may be effective in reducing anxiety when taken once or twice a day. As with many herbs, lavender is not recommended during pregnancy and lactation.

Lifestyle changes

Moodsurfing has recommended a wide variety of lifestyle changes and lifestyle-based approaches to managing chronic illness.  From diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep to apps, screen time, and stress, we consistently advocate taking control and making healthy choices to build up health and strength.  Herbalism fits more in the lifestyle side of health care than in the “take medicine to get better” approach.  Educating oneself, by the use of websites like Consumer Labs, or some of those in the references below is important.  Moderation in life choices, and taking things slower are also meaningful ways to live healthier.  If you are interested in herbal supplements, why not try growing the herbs yourself?  From choosing good seed, to preparing the soil in a garden or a flower pot, digging, cultivating, tending, harvesting and using herbs – the whole cycle is a part of your health maintenance.  Try growing lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, or other calming, life-enhancing herbs and make them a part of your daily routine.


  1. Black, N et.al. Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis.Lancet.  Volume 6, ISSUE 12, P995-1010, December 01, 2019. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30401-8
  2. Lavender.  American Botanical Council website. Accessed Dec. 12, 2019.
  3. Tilgner, Sharol.  How to make herbal tea.  You Are the Healer website.  Accessed Dec. 12, 2019.