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During times of stress, the brain produces its own cannabinoids to induce relaxation, which target the same receptors as THC from cannabis. However, the specific brain activity patterns and neural circuits influenced by these endogenous cannabinoids remains unclear.

The body releases cannabinoids that relieve stress

A recent study conducted by Northwestern Medicine in mice revealed that during times of stress, the amygdala, a critical emotional brain center, releases natural cannabinoid molecules produced by the body. These molecules act to reduce the stress signals coming from the hippocampus, a region responsible for memory and emotions. These findings further support the idea that these internal cannabinoid molecules serve as the body’s natural way of managing stress.

The study published in Cell Reports explores how stress exposure increases the risk of various psychiatric disorders, including generalized anxiety, major depression, and PTSD.

Corresponding study author Dr. Sachi Patel, a psychiatrist at Northwestern University, said that studying how the brain responds to stress at various biological levels could offer valuable insights into the development of mood disorders caused by stress. Patel emphasizes the potential discovery of new treatment targets for stress-related disorders through this research.

Cannabinoid signalling system deficiency linked to mental health issues

The research suggests that deficiencies in the brain’s natural cannabinoid signaling system might make individuals more prone to stress-related mental health issues like depression and PTSD. However, it’s important to note that this connection hasn’t been confirmed in humans yet, according to Patel.

 In the study, Northwestern scientists employed a novel protein sensor capable of identifying cannabinoid molecules at certain brain synapses in real-time. They found that some high-frequency trends of amygdala activity could produce these molecules, and the sensor demonstrated that various forms of stress in mice led to the release of these molecules.

According to Patel, the endocannabinoid system is a significant candidate for drug development in stress-related psychiatric disorders. Patel concludes that the next logical step from this study and previous research is to explore whether higher levels of natural cannabinoids can serve as potential treatments for stress-related disorders.