(TMU) — Marijuana users have long testified that after a stressful or anxiety-racked day they often turn to the plant to chill out and relax.
While cannabis users’ testimonies about the soothing effects of THC and CBD are well-known, they’re finally receiving the backing of a growing body of scientific evidence.
The research could open the door for new treatments for stress and anxiety.
A new study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center has shed light on how cannabis can provide a barrier between the parts of the brain responsible for anxiety. As it turns out, a compound in the plant is capable of effectively short-circuiting our connection with those regions of the brain that cause heightened stress and anxiety.
Findings published in peer-reviewed journal Neuron found that a powerful molecule called 2-AG can disrupt the production and transfer of anxiety-producing neurochemicals that traverse our brains between the amygdala and frontal cortex.
The amygdala is responsible for regulating many emotions including those related to fear. The frontal cortex is responsible for many things including impulse control, social behavior, memory, and problem-solving.
The study, which was conducted on mice, found that 2-AG and cannabis have similar impacts on the part of the brain which responds to marijuana and helps regulate anxiety and stress, called the endocannabinoid system.
When mice were placed under stress by researchers the connections between the amygdala and frontal cortex grew closer.
Dr. Sachin Patel, a co-author of the study and director of the Division of General Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said in a statement from Vanderbilt:
“The circuit between the amygdala and the frontal cortex has been shown to be stronger in individuals with certain types of anxiety disorders. As people or animals are exposed to stress and get more anxious, these two brain areas glue together, and their activity grows stronger together.“
When 2-AG levels were boosted, the connections effectively shorted out and anxiety levels were lowered.
“We might predict there’s a collapse in the endocannabinoid system, which includes 2-AG, in the patients that go on to develop a disorder. But, not everyone develops a psychiatric disorder after trauma exposure, so maybe the people who don’t develop a disorder are able to maintain that system in some way. Those are the things we’re interested in testing next.“
The study offers an explanation of how exactly cannabis plays a role in lowering anxiety.
However, the discovery of a potential path to modulate anxiety and depressive symptoms through 2-AG without “getting high” or relying on medical marijuana could be great news for those who appreciate the stress-relieving effects of the plant but not its intoxicating or disorienting aspects.
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