Brain seeks help of cannabinoid center to relieve stress

Scientists suggest that brain produces its own cannabinoid molecules to cope with stress. So can we reduce depression and PTSD in patients by increasing the release of these molecules?
Rupendra Brahambhatt
Neurons abstract background
Neurons abstract background


A new study reveals that the human body may have an internal cannabinoid mechanism that helps it deal with stress. The study authors found such a mechanism in the amygdala of mice brains.

They believe that a similar mechanism possibly releases cannabinoid molecules to calm down humans during stress. 

The study suggests that impairments in this endogenous cannabinoid signaling system might be one of the factors contributing to the development of psychiatric disorders related to stress, such as depression and PTSD, in humans.

While highlighting the importance of these findings, Dr. Sachin Patel, one of the study authors and a professor of general psychiatry at Northwestern Medicine, said, “Understanding how the brain adapts to stress at the molecular, cellular, and circuit level could provide critical insight into how stress is translated into mood disorders and may reveal novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of stress-related disorders,”

Detecting the source of mice’s cannabinoid molecules

During their study, the researchers noticed that when mice are under stress, the amygdala in mice brains experiences high-frequency patterns that eventually release some cannabinoid molecules.

A real-time protein sensor detected these molecules' presence at hippocampal-amygdala synapses in the mice's brains. “The sensor also showed that these molecules were released as a result of several different types of stress in mice,” the study authors note.

According to the researchers, these endogenous molecules have the same effect on mice brains as cannabis-derived THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) has on the human brain. 

The molecules bind to receptors such as cannabinoid receptor type 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2) in the brain’s memory center, hippocampus, and dampen the stress signals originating from there. 

To further validate their findings, the study authors removed the CB1 receptor. They found that they couldn't reduce stress in mice because the molecules had nothing to target this time. This further resulted in decreased motivation and stress-coping action in mice. 

They were even less interested in activities that gave them pleasure, such as drinking sucrose water. These symptoms can be compared to some of the symptoms humans experience with depression or PTSD. For example, due to high-stress levels, such patients often prefer to avoid pleasure activities.

These results confirmed the connection between endogenous cannabinoid molecules and the coping ability of mice's brains. 

“Determining whether increasing levels of endogenous cannabinoids can be used as potential therapeutics for stress-related disorders is the next logical step from this study and our previous work,” said Patel. 

Treating stress using endogenous cannabinoids

Stress is the root cause of various psychiatric disorders, and many people start using marijuana to deal with their stress, which often results in addiction and other side effects. 

The new study reveals a safe approach that could save people from stress without using unsafe cannabis-derived products and other addictive drugs. 

The study authors suggest although scientists are yet to confirm the presence of endogenous cannabinoid molecules in humans if such a mechanism exists in our body, it can act as a prominent stress-regulating mechanism.

For instance, it might allow doctors to decrease the stress levels in depression or PTSD patients by increasing the release of cannabinoid molecules.     

“One of the leading signaling systems that has been identified as a prominent drug-development candidate for stress-related psychiatric disorders is the endocannabinoid system,” Patel said.

Hopefully, scientists will achieve such treatments with further research on these molecules.

The study is published in the journal Cell Reports.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board