Updated: Apr 11
If you have a self-care routine that is more than just bubble baths (which I also love), it may include some form of visualization. If that is a foreign concept to you, try this: for just a moment, close your eyes and think about a relaxing outdoor scene that brings you joy.
Are you near water or on a beach?
Maybe on a hike in the mountains?
Whether your outdoor happy place involves hiking boots or a swimsuit, they both probably share one essential element that many of us overlook…sunshine.
While I recognize that this may not be true for everyone, for me and many others, there is something about feeling the warmth radiating from the sun and the brightness of the daylight that can feel very uplifting.
However, you may not realize the benefits until you are without sunshine for prolonged periods of time. Just ask any of the many people like myself who have been stuck mostly indoors because of COVID. It has been brutal, to say the least.
But, what is it about the sunshine that feels so uplifting to the spirit? Is it simply being outside, the warmth, the scenery? Not taking anything away from the experience of being outside as a whole, but there is evidence to show that the vitamin that sunshine gives our bodies can play a crucial role in our mental health:
Studies have shown a link between Vitamin D deficiency and Depression. Researchers behind a 2013 meta-analysis noticed those study participants with depression also had low vitamin D levels. The same analysis found that, statistically, people with low vitamin D were at a much greater risk of depression.
The researchers believe that because vitamin D is important to healthy brain function, insufficient nutrient levels may play a role in depression and other mental illnesses. An earlier 2005 study identified vitamin D receptors in the same areas of the brain associated with depression!
If you know anything about how the cannabis plant’s phytocannabinoids work in the human body (through receptors in our Endocannabinoid System (ECS), the research claiming vitamin D receptors in the same areas of our brain associated with depression, this theory starts to make a lot of sense.
“Even though the exact underlying mechanisms are not fully understood, vitamin D deficiency is linked to higher rates of depression and decreased cognitive functioning, hence the importance of getting out into the sun on a regular basis”, says cannabis-trained nurse Natali Murdock, RN.
My Experience With Vitamin D Deficiency
I was first told that I had a vitamin D deficiency ten years ago by the prescribing physician who was treating my car-accident induced PTSD and chronic pain. Long before I understood and was benefitting from the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant, I was still using pharmaceuticals to address my depression and anxiety. The results from my blood work confirmed what my doctor already suspected, that I was severely deficient in vitamin D. And, he was not surprised, but not just because I have depression, but because studies show that many Americans are vitamin D deficient.
Unfortunately, about 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient with some populations having even higher levels of deficiency, including premenopausal women, those with poor nutrition habits, people over age 65, Caucasians who avoid even minimal sun exposure, and those who take prescription medication long term for heartburn, acid reflux, and constipation.
Studies also show that people with darker skin, such as African Americans and Latinos, are also at risk for lower vitamin D levels because high amounts of melanin in the skin reduces the body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight. In addition, certain chronic conditions—such as celiac disease, bariatric surgery, obesity, and chronic kidney or liver disease—can contribute to deficiency.
But I didn’t need a clinical study or blood work to confirm for me that spending time outside in the sunshine is good for my mental health. I have joked many times that I am solar-powered. I swear I can feel my internal battery charging as I soak up the rays of light and warmth. Throw some deep breathing or mild exercise into the mix, and I have a recipe for happy feelings.
Now, this is not a call for you to go outside and get a sunburn in your attempt to soak up as much vitamin D as possible, so please remember to wear sunscreen and limit your sun exposure (always consult your doctor if you have questions). But it is an invitation to look at your lifestyle, from your self-care routine to proper nutrition and physical exercise, and see if simply adding a walk in the park or a vitamin D supplement is a missing piece in your mental health puzzle.
Fueled by her personal journey & struggle to find cannabis education, Jennifer’s efforts have resulted in the establishment of and involvement in nonprofit organizations dedicated to advancing the interests of alternative health and cannabis industry customers. One such organization is Leaf411, the first cannabis nurse hotline that provides community outreach, compassionate care programs, and access to the Leaf Nurse Network. Both passionate and driven, This is Jane Project is honored to have her on the team!
Having a healing anecdote to share about your journey confronting, managing, and healing with cannabis? Or maybe you have a question about cannabis and mental health? If so, we'd love to hear from you.