Study: Cannabinoid Therapies May Help Treat Stress-Induced Anxiety Disorders

Cannabis is considered by many people to be a natural source of stress relief. In fact, an Israeli study published last year validates this claim, suggesting that "cannabinoid system activation could represent a novel approach to the treatment of cognitive deficits that accompany a variety of stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders."
Oct 24, 2015

Hoping to expand on these findings, a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee published a study in last month’s issue of Translational Psychiatry. Their results suggest that increasing one’s levels of endocannabinoids, particularly anandamide, could be a viable treatment for stress-induced anxiety.

What Is Anandamide?

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid, which means our body produces it naturally. It operates in a similar manner to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and effects the CB1 receptors as well as the CB2 receptors.

Past research has shown that anandamide can fight against human breast cancer and aggressive skin cancer, among other benefits. It is also likely that anandamide plays a role in many of the benefits offered by cannabidiol (CBD), considering the fact that CBD inhibits the production of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that degrades anandamide.

A few months ago, we published a piece about the apparent relationship between CBD and social anxiety. However, the study offered little evidence as to the mechanisms underlying the cannabinoid’s benefits.

That being said, it’s entirely possible that anandamide was responsible for the significant improvement in anxiety experienced by patients in the previous study. The research performed at Vanderbilt University seems to increase the likelihood of this hypothesis.

Increased Anandamide May Help Treat Stress-Induced Anxiety

In order to test the relationship between anandamide and stress-induced anxiety, the Vanderbilt research team conducted a series of tests using mice as subjects. First, they shocked the mice’s feet six times for two seconds each to induce stress – there was a one-minute interval between each shock.

24 hours later, the mice were subjected to a number of behavioral assays to determine whether this foot-shock would result in an anxious response. The results of two different tests suggested that the mice were in fact dealing with anxiety, according to the research team.

“The endocannabinoid was able to reverse the stress-induced state of anxiety in mice.”

In an attempt to counter the effects of this anxiety, the researchers administered an inhibitor of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) to prevent the enzyme from degrading anandamide. Their results suggest that the endocannabinoid was able to reverse the stress-induced state of anxiety in mice.

How Can Medical Cannabis Help Treat Stress And Anxiety?

Perhaps more interesting, the Vanderbilt research team reported that anandamide levels throughout the brain were reduced 24 hours after shocking the mice’s feet. This was negatively-correlated with their experience of anxiety (more anandamide = less anxiety), which lead researchers to the conclusion that “central anandamide levels predict acute stress-induced anxiety.”

The Vanderbilt research team explains that their findings “strongly support the utility of anandamide augmentation as a therapeutic approach for stress-related affective and anxiety disorders.”

Considering that cannabidiol (CBD) can inhibit the degradation of anandamide and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can mimic its effects, one can reasonably infer that cannabis-based therapies may help counter stress-induced anxiety. Of course, more research will be necessary to verify the effectiveness of such treatments.

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