The Endocannabinoid System and Mental Health
Posted: April 5, 2023
When it comes to mental health care, it is easy to assume most of the work goes on in the brain, when actually, your entire body plays a critical role in your wellbeing. It’s not just in your head! Maintaining mental health can become significantly easier when tending to your entire body. One of the networks of nerves in the peripheral nervous system, called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), plays a key role in the regulation of stress response, sleep, appetite, pain management, memory and hormones. But how does it work; and most importantly, how can cannabis therapeutics improve ECS function? The ECS Balances the Body The ECS is the mater regulatory system within the body - it dictates cellular-level communication networks responsible for maintaining homeostasis between all of the body's organs and physiological functions. When the ECS is out of balance, a disregulation of all of these critical processes can occur. For instance, an imbalance in hormone regulation in the ECS could impact a number of other processes; mood, memory, appetite, pain tolerance. This delicate balance, when disrupted may contribute to the pathophysiology of several mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30026022/#:~:text=Studies%20carried%20out%20in%20humans,pathophysiology%20of%20several%20mental%20disorders. It can prove difficult repairing the processes of the ECS when out of order, as many of these processes are so interconnected and still not fully understood. Thankfully, cannabinoids offer a plant based alternative to support regulation of the ECS. Cannabis: a Holistic Approach for Balance and Wellness In addition to counseling, cannabis offers promise for stress relief and overall mood stability. To better understand the potential of medical cannabis, let’s break down the science behind how it affects the ECS. CBD activates in your nervous system through the ECS, indirectly influencing a channel of receptors located in your brain, spinal cord, organs, and immune system. Cannabinoids act on the part of your nervous system that influences serotonin receptors in your body. Serotonin is the hormone (and neurotransmitter) that regulates much of our memory, mood, reproductive health, along with many other bodily functions. This means that cannabinoids like CBD can influence how you experience appetite, nausea, emotions, and stress. All cannabinoids behave differently in the body; some might trigger only one receptor, while others bind to more than one. CBD works in a slightly different way: it does not bind to either of the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), but instead alters those receptors through other pathways. In a sense, CBD acts as a communicator in your body to help signal the brain to adjust bodily functions to healthy, regulated processes. CBD acts as a primer for nerve endings, creating more effective communication between your brain and the rest of your body. This is partially why short term effects of CBD are more subtle, while long term, consistent use can provide consumers with noticeable benefits. Interestingly, our bodies also produce endogenous; cannabinoids, which naturally interact with the ECS. How the ECS and cannabinoids can affect Mental Health Based on the interactions of cannabinoids and the ECS, it is clear to see how it could impact the regulation of our bodies. This still leaves in question, how cannabinoids might affect specific mental health conditions? Here are some of the most common mental health conditions and how cannabis may impact symptoms. PTSD Research has consistently demonstrated that the human ECS plays a significant role in PTSD. People with PTSD have cannabinoid deficiences, making the consumption of cannabis necessary to sustain balance and homestatis of the ECS. It is important to acknowledge that long term cannabis use for patients with PTSD can lead to possible cannabis tolerance or dependence. This makes it crucial to seek informed education before using cannabis for PTSD treatment. Chronic Stress & Anxiety Chronic stress is one of the most common reasons people turn to cannabis for relief. There is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence to support cannabis being a soothing option to combat daily stress and mood instability. In studies conducted on cannabis and anxie HYPERLINK "https://adai.uw.edu/pubs/pdf/2017mjanxiety.pdf"ty disorders, it has been suggested that THC can decrease anxiety at lower doses, however increases anxiety at higher doses. CBD, the non-psychoactive cousin of THC, has greater potential to offer stress relief through its anti-anxiety effects, while limiting the possibility of unwanted symptoms like paranoia. Insomnia It was found that CBD worked to improve the symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), a disorder that causes individuals to act out scenes physically while dreaming. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24845114/ This can be particularly important for trauma patients, as REM sleep plays a critical role in the consolidation of emotional memories, which play a critical role in how we process trauma. Regulating the REM process for traumatized individuals may even prevent PTSD. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7170365/ It is possible that CBD can help the ECS regulate hormonal processes as well as stress responses related to sleeplessness and restless minds before bed. Many individuals have been consuming CBD for stress relief and sleep aid for over centuries. Between CBD’s ability to stabilize moods and reduce stress, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties it can work as an excellent supplement for anyone struggling with sleep because of stress or chronic pain. CBD is also useful for eliminating daytime sleepiness and fatigue, which is a major symptom of insomnia. Not only will CBD support better sleep, but it can make managing day-time symptoms of sleep disorders easier. Dissociation Cannabis can help one to be more creative and positive in a dissociative state. It also helps people to be more present and focused which mitigates the risk of dissociation. Unlike the other conditions above, dissociation can actually be exacerbated by cannabis consumption. In some cases, cannabis can induce greater states of dissociation - making it harder to function for some people. Higher potency cannabis products are shown to have more extreme effects. Looking towards a Brighter Future with Therapeutic Cannabis There is still so much to be uncovered about cannabis as a mental health therapeutic aid, especially with so many limitations on access and research. This is due to the problematic and outdated laws from the decades of criminalization and cannabis prohibition. Despite how much work there is to be done, we are already seeing the incredible potential that this plant has to offer. Build Healthier Foundations for your Mental Health with Cannabis Call (203)-584-7971 to schedule a Cannabis Psycho Education session through Quality Counseling CT today. In these sessions, clients learn about cannabis and black history, along with the fundamentals on the cannabis plant, ECS, consumption, and treatment recommendations to reduce symptoms of PTSD and chronic stress. Both commercial and state insurance are accepted for these services. For more information about booking your first session.