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Activating Cannabinoid Receptors Could Replace Cannabis as an Anxiety Treatment

December 13, 2014

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in the United States and is being increasingly used as a self-medicating measure to counteract depression and/or anxiety.

Individuals with mood and anxiety disorders have been found in previous studies to have lowered levels of endocannabinoids; hence, the introduction of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) activates the cannabinoid receptors, which offers relief for some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A new study published by Cell Reports and a research team at Vanderbilt University has found a way to replenish the levels of an endocannabinoid known as 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) in the brain, which may offer some relief for those who find themselves depending on cannabis to relieve depressive symptoms.

Dr. Sachin Patel, professor of psychiatry, molecular physiology, and biophysics, purposefully induced depressive and anxiety disorders in adult mice by deleting an enzyme that usually breaks down 2-AG. Predictably, all of the mice exhibited anxiety symptoms and many of the female mice exhibited depressive symptoms. However, when the 2-AG levels were replenished in their brains, it seemed to have a reversal of the depressive symptoms. 

Normalizing a 2-AG deficiency may present a viable therapeutic treatment for mood and anxiety disorders without any side effects as synthetic cannabinoids, which are found in cannabis. This study could be promising, specifically for heavy cannabis users who rely on cannabis as a self-medicating measure for depression or anxiety.

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Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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