Elephants can get depressed too

Published Oct 11, 2020 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Anna_Om

Depression can hit all of us, and how we handle it can have a bearing on how we go through life in the future. Elephants are no different.

Elephants live in herds or groups and have a life expectancy of up to 70 years. The diet of an African elephant is that of a herbivore. It is interesting to note they are the largest land animal on Earth. The African elephant plays a critical role in the ecosystem, and depression can change this fantastic animal's habit. Luckily, cannabis can help correct the issue, thus maintaining our fragile ecosystem.

The Warsaw Zoo and one of its residents, an African elephant, are participating in an experimental cannabis oil treatment that began because the elephants at the zoo were struggling with the death of a member of the group. When the simple structure changes, as it does with death among the group, the elephants left behind can experience behavioural changes. Depression is common in this situation for both elephants and humans.

One of the younger elephants at the Polish Zoo was exhibiting signs of anxiety and stress, and the zookeeper noted this when attempting to have the young elephant bond with the herd members. The elephant keeper hoped that cannabis oil treatment would help to alleviate stress in the same way that CBD has been used for centuries for mental health issues in humans. The experiment's idea was to relieve the young elephant's stress, which would help restore balance among the group.

Cannabis and depression

Cannabis is thought to increase dopamine and serotonin production, the two chemicals in the brain known to affect mood. CBD is not a psychoactive compound in cannabis, so it will produce no intoxication. There are no feelings of being high because a stereotypical high is only possible with the addition of the other popular compound in cannabis THC.


This compound is used for humans in the treatment of many mental health issues. Depression and anxiety that many humans feel can also be part of the elephant's life. As noted by zookeepers around the world, the elephant can experience the same feelings. CBD, one of the compounds of cannabis, is used to treat depression and anxiety on humans.  If any, the side-effects are manageable and may include drowsiness, light-headedness, and dry mouth, so the treatment is entirely safe.

The elephant's cortisol levels were monitored to measure the effectiveness of the treatment, as this hormone is present in animals and humans, and it changes levels when stressful situations arise. The doctor in control of this experiment believes that this will determine if CBD truly helps the elephant.  Elephants get stressed out quickly, and this is not conducive to a happy group.

Since the African elephant is the largest land animal and, just like humans, they enjoy others' company; depression can be detrimental. CBD oil administered regularly seems to be what the doctor ordered for the elephants of Warsaw. So, for those who do believe an elephant never forgets, let's hope that CBD can help to erase those feelings of loneliness and anxiety while perhaps helping to eliminate the pain in those huge joints in the largest legs land animal in the world.

Who knows? Next time you visit the zoo, you and the pachyderm may have more in common that those cute little beady eyes. Cannabis can be the means the African elephant needs to enjoy a well-adjusted life, just like CBD helps the human species to make life more enjoyable.

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