Marijuana can be a powerful ally in the war against depression but at what cost?
What Is Serotonin?
Imagine it, you’re on the couch about to parachute into a COD: Warzone match only to land and get ambushed then it’s off to the gulag. This is the third time in a row this has happened. You yell in a glorious fit of rage and now your friends on the other side of the mic are concerned you might be a little “too mad”. You rage quit then its off to the fridge to binge eat your kids snack packs. Now you feel a little silly for getting so upset. You reboot the Xbox and you’re back into another match. You parachute, land, get ambushed, gulag once again. Four times now?!
But this time you are very calm and just laugh about it. Now everyone is having fun. So what happened?
Your friend, serotonin, is achieving your body’s equilibrium. Most of your serotonin is in your digestive system but it’s also found in your brain. It’s a chemical that science says can maintain your current your mood and appetite. Ever feel “hangry?” That’s your serotonin levels out of whack.
A common misconception about serotonin is that people think it is only a deficiency issue. They may think that if someone is depressed that they just need a boost of serotonin. While serotonin is responsible for managing anxiety and depression it’s a persons serotonin balance that is important. A very high or low level of serotonin can have negative results ranging from depression to heart issues.
If you have the blues and think it could be diet related check out this link to boost serotonin levels.
How Does Marijuana Affect Serotonin?
In our previous blog What Does THC Do To Your Brain? we discussed cannabinoids and their role in the nervous system. Imagine your body as a assembly line factory with multiple machines building different things. Cannabinoid receptors called CB1 are a machine that produces and inhibits the amount of serotonin that gets to float around your body. Feel like garbage because you read the news for five minutes? The CB1 machine knows you need some serotonin to feel better but the machine is out of energy. Thankfully you ate a plate of scrambled eggs and gave that machine the ability to turn itself on again. It starts pumping serotonin until it achieves the desired effect of your calming your sensitive ass down. Now that it’s satisfied it switches off because it doesn’t want to overdose you with too much serotonin.
All of a sudden some jerk named THC enters the factory and goes right for the CB1 machine. It sees that machine is set to auto. That means it can automatically shut on or off when due to its programming by the boss (your brain). THC says out loud to know one in particular “I do what I want” and switches the CB1 machine to manual. Now that your cannabinoid has been stimulated by THC it starts pumping out serotonin whether you need it or not. It’s not a huge deal though. Eventually THC gets bored and goes home.
What if the boss decides to leave the door unlocked and THC can come in whenever it wants? Or maybe it just comes in one more time and never leaves? This is a risk that heavy marijuana users are taking. Those that use marijuana heavily according to this study run the risk of not being able to turn the machine off and developing serotonin syndrome.
Severe serotonin syndrome can cause heart and seizure symptoms and it can be life threatening. Now the good news is that study does indicate that you would have to be a very heavy marijuana user to be at risk and that if you don’t use it excessively you should be fine. The study didn’t really state what the difference is. Smoking once a month is not excessive is all I could learn from reading it.
Can Marijuana Be Used As an Anti-Depressant?
Through the research I’ve done there is definitely one conclusion. Doctors and scientists haven’t made up their mind yet. There are multiple studies and theories but nothing is concrete. Perhaps that makes sense since depression and the effects of marijuana use and the CB1 receptor are not black and white.
Cannabis always has a saint-hood associated with it for being medicinal. CBD will be studied further and it is a positive (it can kill gonorrhea for crying out loud) cannabis looks more and more like a treatment for depression symptoms and not a cure. CBD can treat low serotonin levels without making you dopey but did you know it can effect your liver?
Also while marijuana can be have its advantages for treating depression, a large does of serotonin can cause sexual health issues. Higher amounts of serotonin can affect your libido and cause intimacy issues in a relationship. If you use high amounts of marijuana to treat depression there will be side effects. In order to curb these negative effects and use cannabis effectively it’s best to seek a medical professional.
The fascination with this plant is that we are still learning everyday what it can do for us. It’s a shame prohibition has set us back countless years of research due to the controversy of its legality.