Our ancestors rarely had time to consider whether they were “depressed” or unhappy with their lives. Few had any spare moment to ponder these questions in light of basic needs like food and water. Yet, St. John’s Wort has been used for many hundreds of years as a mood enhancer.
With the luxuries of the modern day, St. John’s wort is being used as an antidepressant because the drug helps to inhibit the uptake of certain brain chemicals responsible for mood . It is so effective at treating depression and mood related problems, a systematic review in 2008 showed similar efficacy as traditional antidepressants, but without the side effects .
This natural compound is useful for treating symptoms of depression, but still has warnings related to the interaction of this drug with other known prescriptions and medications.
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Editors’ Thoughts on St. John’s Wort
I’ve never tried it, but it seems to be a potent antidepressant and mood enhancer. My only concern would be if I was consuming another drug that interacted with the enzyme CYP3A4 (such as Berberine).
I realize most drugs have interactions with enzymes (many of which we don’t know about), but I also don’t like the idea of altering the enzymes in my body much if at all possible. There are downstream effects to this that are still unknown. Maybe that’s just my typical conservative fear mongering.
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Editor
Benefits of St. John’s Wort
The main benefit of St. John’s wort is as an antidepressant. Most of the research on the compound centers on this benefit. A 2008 meta-analysis, one of the most comprehensive forms of study, looked at 29 trials that included nearly 5500 patients using St. John’s wort. The trial noted that there was almost no difference between typical SSRI pharmaceutical drugs and St. John’s wort .
A major bonus of St. John’s wort, as evidenced by the meta analysis above, is the fact that so many fewer subjects dropped out of the study due to side effects. This suggests that the drug has similar effects as SSRIs, but without the risks.
The many other benefits of St. John’s wort are related to brain chemical modulation, such as dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin. The active ingredient in St. John’s wort helps to downregulate receptors in the adrenal system , which can mean less of an adrenal response (i.e: less stress) for the body.
Dopamine, one of the chemicals that is most associated with mood and happiness, is also enhanced with St. John’s wort. One test showed that dopamine in the prefrontal cortex was increased by 40% when taking a high dose .
Serotonin is another brain chemical, which is most directly linked to depression symptoms. Evidence suggests that St. John’s wort prevents the reuptake of serotonin , leaving more of the chemical in the brain and thus helping to reduce symptoms of depression.
How Does St. John’s Wort Work?
St. John’s wort is a plant with a psychoactive ingredient that interacts with the human brain. The most active compound is called Hyperforin, which is usually standardized in human trials to 0.5%. This compound is what causes the neurological changes in the brain and modulates the brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline .
Side Effects of St. John’s Wort
Despite the popularity and usefulness of St. John’s wort for dealing with symptoms of depression, there are some significant side effects as well. The drug is considered to be a “photosensitizer”, which means high-intensity light can cause damage. Thus, people who are taking the drug should be more cautious about protecting eyes from impaired vision or cataracts .
Another point to consider is the side effect of St. John’s wort we mentioned above regarding enzyme changes. The enzyme is called cytochrome P450 and can interact with certain medications to your detriment . According to anecdotal reports, this also includes things like birth control and a large percentage of compounds.
St. John’s Wort Dosage
The standard dosage of St. John’s wort is around 300 mg three times per day. It is important to make sure your St. John’s wort dosage is standardized so you can better understand the psychoactive ingredient and effects. It will also provide a layer of protection for you.
How and Where to Buy St. John’s Wort
Even though St. John’s wort has the interactions with the human body, because it is considered “natural”, the restrictions are very light. The drug is available in many health food stores and even some normal grocery stores. You will probably not find products that have the right dosage and standardization, however.
The best way to buy St. John’s wort is to do so online. Making a St. John’s wort purchase online allows you to better understand the doses and the reputation of the brand, not to mention the cost and affordability.
Even though we have positive reviews for Nootropics Depot and Pure Nootropics as trusted vendors, neither of them sell St. John’s wort. Therefore, we recommend Now Foods St. John’s wort, which is a reputable vendor on Amazon. They have it clearly stated their product has 300 mg per capsule with a 0.3% standardization for hypericin.
Selected Community Experiences
“I started taking St. John's wort extract (300mg) twice a day (instead of 3 as instructed) and my sleep has been significantly changed. I keep waking up way earlier than planned and having trouble going back to sleep. My mood has been a lot more positive and I have noticed reduced anxiety/panic attacks. But I've noticed I haven't had 8 hours of full non interrupted sleep.”  – SociallyOkwerd
“I started taking St. John's Wort after a long period of anxiety manifested into a deep depression about two years ago. For the first three days and nights, I found myself extremely sensitive to light, to the point that I refused to leave my room in fear of headaches. It felt like the type of headaches that you got when you watch a computer monitor for more than 3 hours straight in a day, except far, far worse.”  – BetweenTwoCities
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