The endocannabinoid system (ECS) contains two primary G-protein coupled receptors, the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. The ECS is how marijuana’s psychoactive compound Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) affects our body. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for balancing many functions including memory, emotions, learning, and stress.
The ECS is directly involved in mood and mood related disorders. Studies have shown that phytocannabinoids may modify the ECS in psychiatric disorders. Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant (phyto). Endocannabinoids are our internal (endo) cannabinoids. The most significant endocannabinoids for this study include, Anandamide (AEA), also known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine, and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Endocannabinoids are like our own self-made THC.
When CB1 and CB2 receptors miscommunicate, we see the symptoms of mood disorders. Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent major mood disorders. More than 50 years ago, the introduction of the first antidepressant drugs had a profound impact on how depression is viewed. If chemicals can reverse most symptoms of the mood disorder, then depression might be due to chemical imbalance in the brain.
Anxiety disorders differ by symptoms. Some common anxiety disorders include:
Given the significant side effect list of conventional current pharmaceuticals for depression and anxiety, there is a “great need for faster acting, safer, and more effective treatments.” Two factors raise the question of ECS relation to psychiatric disorders. The overlap of symptoms found in depressive and anxiety disorders is of primary interest. The secondary factor is the partial efficacy of the same conventional pharmaceuticals in treating depression and anxiety.
The study questions if pharmacological regulation of the ECS is promising for treating behavioral elements of mood disorders. They believe this connection could explain the high degree of concurrent symptoms between the two affective mood disorders.
Synthetic non-specific cannabinoids, including CB1 and CB2 agonists WIN 55, 212-2, HU-210, and CR55-940 improved behavioral responses in rodents. The same was true of arachidonoyl 2′-chloroethylamine (ACEA). Evidence also suggests cannabinoids invoke anxiolytic responses. Anxiolytic drugs reduce anxiety.
In preclinical, animal-based, trials, THC decreased the immobility time in rodents after 5-day treatment with changes to locomotor activity. The studies were primary on rats. However, not all studies were consistent. One study showed increased mobility time in mice with THC treatment. The different factors that could account for this are the differences in species or strain. Other factors could be the “different experimental procedure or basal stress related conditions.”
In adolescents, chronic exposure to THC induced depression in adulthood. This data further supports the concept that adolescence is a critical period where direct CB1 activation could affect mood control.
If you are considering using medical cannabis or any cannabinoids to treat a mood disorder, you first must consult your doctor. In order to obtain medical cannabis, you need to live in a state or country with legal access and have a doctor’s prescription. Preclinical studies are not enough for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to include medical cannabis as a formal treatment for mood disorders. Further studies are needed.