Changes in the endocannabinoid system can gravely impact your mental health.
Mental health no longer hides in the shadows of medicine. As our understanding of the human brain increases, gaps in knowing about how and why people become mentally ill closes. Your mental health has never been more invested upon.
The Endocannabinoid System and Mental Health
Multiple studies give focus to the possible involvement of the endocannabinoid system (ECS)in mental health. The ECS helps maintain a balance within the human body, called homeostasis.
The ECS consists of these three components:
2) receptors and
3) enzymes that break down or build up endocannabinoids.
Mental health will be impacted by a change in any one of these three.
Changes in CB1 Receptor Associated With Mental Illness
Several human studies show that changes in ECS activity are linked to major depression. For example, the number of CB1 receptors is increased in certain brain regions for patients with major depression. For the same patients, CB2 receptor levels remain unchanged.
One of the biological reasons why these changes happen is due to mistakes in genes coding for the CB1 receptor. Researchers have discovered several different kinds of these, ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms.’
Gene Mutations and Your Mental Health
One of the genetic mutations is common to individuals with major depression whom also have psychotic symptoms. Another type seems to be protective against major depression in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
And still other mutations are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Indeed, one study underlined that proper CB1 receptor-mediated signaling is crucial in protection against PTSD. Neuroimaging of people with PTSD showed abnormal CB1 receptor function.
Interestingly, even though CB2 receptor is generally not linked to balancing mental health, one study found that a mistake in a gene encoding CB2 receptor is associated with higher incidence of depression in the Japanese population. This same variant, in other studies, was described as associated with development of eating disorders and schizophrenia. The CB2 receptor has significance that still needs to be examined.
ECS, Enzymes and Mental Illness
Enzymes are crucial to maintaining proper ECS function. Any change in enzyme levels can alter how receptors function. For example, too much anandamide (AEA) can lead to desensitization of the CB1 receptor. This leads to overactive postsynaptic neuron activity.
In fact, depression and anxiety (in patients exposed to childhood trauma) can result from a reduction in an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). This is because reductions in FAAH translate to increased levels of anandamide. This is bad because it will lead to desensitization of CB1 receptors. And this causes increased neuronal signaling.
The Importance of Proper Endocannabinoid Levels
Circulating endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-arachydonylglycerol (2-AG), are not necessarily reflective of the amounts in the brain. Even still, studies suggest that serum anandamide and 2-AG may be faithful biomarkers to assess your mental health.
Patients with PTSD have low levels of serum anandamide and 2-AG . The same was found in schizophrenic patients, post-mortem. This same study also revealed that the use of antipsychotic medications decreased the endocannabinoid content. This raises caution about the therapeutic potential versus the negative impact on the endocannabinoid tone.
What Does This Mean for Treatment with Cannabis?
Presented studies in humans highlight the importance of a properly functioning ECS for good mental health. Different mental illnesses experience different alterations in ECS function. It’s important to remember that functional changes in one area likely to lead to alterations elsewhere.
A few of the studies demonstrated reduced endocannabinoid tone as a key component of mental illness. Cannabis can provide cannabinoids to correct for this. But, as is the present case for cannabis, more research is necessary.