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marijuana and serotonin levels

Cannabis: Potent Anti-depressant In Low Doses, Worsens Depression At High Doses

A new neurobiological study has found that a synthetic form of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, is an effective anti-depressant at low doses. However, at higher doses, the effect reverses itself and can actually worsen depression and other psychiatric conditions like psychosis.

It has been known for many years that depletion of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain leads to depression, so SSRI-class anti-depressants like Prozac and Celexa work by enhancing the available concentration of serotonin in the brain. However, this study offers the first evidence that cannabis can also increase serotonin, at least at lower doses.

Laboratory animals were injected with the synthetic cannabinoid WIN55,212-2 and then tested with the Forced Swim test — a test to measure “depression” in animals; the researchers observed an antidepressant effect of cannabinoids paralleled by an increased activity in the neurons that produce serotonin. However, increasing the cannabinoid dose beyond a set point completely undid the benefits, said Dr. Gabriella Gobbi of McGill University.

“Low doses had a potent anti-depressant effect, but when we increased the dose, the serotonin in the rats’ brains actually dropped below the level of those in the control group. So we actually demonstrated a double effect: At low doses it increases serotonin, but at higher doses the effect is devastating, completely reversed.”

The anti-depressant and intoxicating effects of cannabis are due to its chemical similarity to natural substances in the brain known as “endo-cannabinoids,” which are released under conditions of high stress or pain, explained Dr. Gobbi. They interact with the brain through structures called cannabinoid CB1 receptors. This study demonstrates for the first time that these receptors have a direct effect on the cells producing serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates the mood.

Dr. Gobbi and her colleagues were prompted to explore cannabis’ potential as an anti-depressant through anecdotal clinical evidence, she said. “As a psychiatrist, I noticed that several of my patients suffering from depression used to smoke cannabis. And in the scientific literature, we had some evidence that people treated with cannabis for multiple sclerosis or AIDS showed a big improvement in mood disorders. But there were no laboratory studies demonstrating the anti-depressant mechanism of action of cannabis.”

Because controlling the dosage of natural cannabis is difficult — particularly when it is smoked in the form of marijuana joints — there are perils associated with using it directly as an anti-depressant.

“Excessive cannabis use in people with depression poses high risk of psychosis,” said Dr. Gobbi. Instead, she and her colleagues are focusing their research on a new class of drugs which enhance the effects of the brain’s natural endo-cannabinoids.

“We know that it’s entirely possible to produce drugs which will enhance endo-cannabinoids for the treatment of pain, depression and anxiety,” she said.

The study, published in the October 24 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, was led by Dr. Gabriella Gobbi of McGill University and Le Centre de Recherche Fernand Seguin of Hôpital Louis-H. Lafontaine, affiliated with l’Université de Montréal. First author is Dr. Gobbi’s McGill PhD student Francis Bambico, along with Noam Katz and the late Dr. Guy Debonnel* of McGill’s Department of Psychiatry.

A new neurobiological study has found that a synthetic form of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, is an effective anti-depressant at low doses. However, at higher doses, the effect reverses itself and can actually worsen depression and other psychiatric conditions like psychosis.

The Link Between Marijuana and Serotonin

Scientific research has given us multiple studies indicating that dopamine levels in the brain are impacted by marijuana use. But what about the brain’s other neurotransmitter, serotonin?

Serotonin plays critical roles in multiple bodily functions, including sleep and mood regulation. Since it has been linked with the endocannabinoid system, there is some potential for marijuana to work as an antidepressant. It is also being looked at as a treatment for other health conditions that are linked with neurotransmitter imbalances, such as autoimmune diseases.

What Does Serotonin Do?

Serotonin (otherwise known as 5-HT) functions as a neurotransmitter, which are the body’s chemical messengers that relay data between the central nervous system (CNS) and the body’s organs and tissues. Serotonin gets created in the brain, but about 90% of your serotonin supply is actually located in your digestive system.

Serotonin is derived from tryptophan through a biochemical process. 5-HT receptors on the membranes of nerve cells work to regulate serotonin. There are a total of seven 5-HT families and 14 sub-types. Each family and sub-type help to moderate different functions, including sexual behavior, sleep, memory, mood, and thermoregulation.

In other words, serotonin is what helps to keep you feeling pretty well. When your serotonin levels are off, you might end up feeling depressed, anxious, and have trouble sleeping. You might also develop gastrointestinal issues.

How is Serotonin Affected By Marijuana?

Marijuana is composed of 66 cannabinoids, the most highly-used and studied being THC. When you ingest THC into your system, these cannabinoids interact with specific receptors. Endocannabinoids in the brain such as anandamide (also known as the “bliss molecule”) that are naturally produced within the body interact with various cannabinoid receptors.

Scientists have discovered that serotonin neurons and their surrounding inhibitory neurons house cannabinoid receptors. Therefore, scientists believe that serotonin levels can be regulated by these cannabinoids.

How Does This Benefit My Health?

Serotonin is one of those biochemicals that, when it’s off, you will start to feel it. When your serotonin is too low, anxiety, depression, and other mood-related issues settle in. When your serotonin level is too high, you might feel confused and experience an elevated heart rate.

A serotonin imbalance might be remedied through marijuana use due to its unique interactions with cannabinoid receptors in the body. Those who are taking antidepressants might feel the drugs’ effects enhanced with these cannabinoid increases.

Prescription drugs that block cannabinoid receptors also block serotonin, inadvertently causing depression and anxiety. Those who have dealt with the results these meds produce might benefit from marijuana since it works with regulating serotonin.

Marijuana has been able to help other people start to reclaim their health and happiness. If you have been dealing with the effects of low serotonin levels, medical cannabis might be worth giving a try. If you would like more information on how you can pre-qualify for medical cannabis, be sure to give us a call today. Your body might just end up thanking you for it.

The Link Between Marijuana and Serotonin Scientific research has given us multiple studies indicating that dopamine levels in the brain are impacted by marijuana use. But what about the brain’s