Marijuana & Depression The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health

Marijuana & Depression: The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health

January 31, 2019

By Lauren Ann 

With the growing popularity and use of Cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes,  CBD and The Endocannabinoid System have been emerging areas of research in the health field, and for good reason.

Physiological effects of Marijuana in the body


CBD, or Cannabidoil is a Phytocannabinoid- in addition to THC (the psychoactive constituent in Marijuana).  

  •  Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids derived from plants that mimic many of the biological actions of our own body processes, helping it to achieve homeostasis.
  • These phytocannabinoids (CBD, THC) interact with natural receptors that we have in our bodies, called Cannabinoid Receptors (CB1/Cannabinoid Receptor 1) and (CB2/Cannabinoid Receptor 2),  in order to stimulate responses in our body that encourage balance..

Related article: THC and CBD, and the Entourage Effect!

In addition to cannabinoids, our bodies also comprise of endocannabinoids  (Ananamide or AEA) and (2-Arachidonylglycerol or 2-AG), natural endogenous lipids that help to activate the body’s cannabinoid receptors, also helping to reach optimal balance.

  • Endocannabinoids as well as cannabinoid receptors make up the body’s Endocannabinoid System. This system ensures balance amongst our body’s physiological processes, by eliciting chemical responses from phytocannabinoids (CBD, THC) as well as from our natural endocannabinoids (AEA, 2-AG) from interaction with cannabinoid receptors (CB1, CB2).

The Endocannabinoid System has a role in regulating inflammation, digestion, pain, appetite, memory and mood in the body. This is because Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body.

Our Body’s Natural Cannabinoid Receptors

Marijuana & Depression The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health

  • Cannabinoid 1 Receptors are primarily located in the brain and nervous system, in addition to the liver, lungs and kidneys. Our natural endocannabinoid AEA as well as cannabinoids consumed, bind primarily with this receptor (CB1) offering relief from related symptoms; pain, inflammation, depression, in addition to a number of others.

  • Cannabinoid 2 Receptors are located primarily in the immune system, GI tract and spleen. CB2 receptors bind most effectively with 2-AG. Our natural endocannabinoids, as well as cannabinoids consumed, bind primarily with this receptor (CB2), offering relief of inflammation, pain, as well as regulating our  immune system.

The Uplifting Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana & Depression The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health

For the purpose of this article, our focus will be on the Endocannabinoid Systems’ implications on mood health. Many of us who consume cannabinoids do so for the uplifting relief it provides to our mood.  In fact, there is some exciting research emerging about this and it has to do with our body’s balance of the Endocannabinoid System.

Recent research suggests that cannabinoids may elicit antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties as they help to improve balance in the Endocannabinoid System.  Endocannabinoids are made as well as degraded in the body. This system is compromised from a number of contributing factors; stress, diet, as well as less than optimal health.

Therefore, it is hypothesized that deficiencies in endocannabinoids in this natural body system contributes to depression and anxiety.

Related article: Marijuana and Anxiety - Tips and Tricks To Overcome Your Paranoia While You're High

Medication Interactions with Cannabis

Marijuana & Depression The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health


    TCAs (Tricyclic antidepressants) and Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs); for instance have been indicated to have adverse effects with Marijuana; whereas Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) reported more subtle, favorable effects. 

  • TCAs and Marijuana can be a dangerous combination, as both can cause an increase in heart rate (Tachycardia). Marijuana is also thought to affect how MAOI antidepressants work in the body; however more research is warranted to understand the full physiological effects. 

  • A general theme of those reporting favorable effects with overall Cannabis (CBD and Marijuana) and antidepressant use, noted overall improvement in appetite and sex drive; which may otherwise be compromised by the side effects of some medications

What are some other natural ways of combating Depression?

Marijuana & Depression The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health

  • Consumption of whole nutrient, dense foods (rich in B vitamins and antioxidants) as these will naturally help in improving upon our mood and regulating anxiety. 

  • Obtaining sufficient sleep. This helps to restore our body and mind, and is also conducive to healthy GI functioning which has a profound effect on our mood. In fact, more and more research suggests that our gut has a greater influence on our mental and overall health than previously considered. Nearly 90% of our Serotonin (feel good neurotransmitter) is located in our gut. Things like drinking plenty of water have an impact on our GI functioning, as well as getting good quality sleep, nutrition, exercise; as well as keeping stress at bay. 

  • Getting outdoors is also significant. In fact, research indicates that sufficient levels of Vitamin D (what we get from the sun) may help to improve upon depressive symptoms in the body. 

  • Regular exercise has strong implications on our mood. Research suggests that the benefits from this can be as effective as antidepressants. Furthermore, emerging research is looking at the effects we get from prolonged cardio- or - “Runner’s High”. This is hypothesized as actually the result from endocannabinoids (specifically AEA) sending signals to our brain’s reward centers. Therefore, the more we exercise the greater levels of Anandamide (endocannabinoid associated with anxiety and depression) our brains produce, helping to improve our mood.

Additional ways to combat depression and optimize mood with Cannabis

Marijuana & Depression The Role of The Endocannabinoid System in Mood Health

  • Less is More. We want uplifting and optimal effects from Cannabis, not a total high, or to overload our system with CBD. Therefore, I suggest micro-dosing; using the minimal amount of Cannabis to get the best effects. Smoking too much, can also have more of a depressant effect, which we don’t want if we are already dealing with Depressive symptoms.

  • Do things you enjoy in the process. Listen to music. Go for a walk. Get lost in an enjoyable book. Even better, watch a funny movie or show. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

  • Ensure you’re in a comfortable atmosphere conducive to an uplifting mood. Getting outdoors as mentioned is great for optimal well-being. Being with good company, those that are supportive of you and that have positive vibes.

  • Other things to try?

    • Grounding/Earthing. Earthing, also called Grounding is when your body comes into direct contact with the solid surface of the earth (walking barefoot). Research indicates that this simple way of connecting with the earth, has great implications to our health, well-being and even healing properties. During grounding, free electrons are taken up into the body from the earth, helping to balance and optimize our body systems.

    • Deep Breathing. Meditation. Yoga. Self care. All of these things have been indicated to have a profound effect on our mood and overall health. Not only are they excellent examples of self-care and compassion, they are also great to do while consuming cannabis as it allows you to be more focused and mindful. Daily implementation will help you to feel rejuvenated and emotionally “detoxed.”

    • Get creative. Draw, paint, sketch or even journal/write. Sometimes self-expression and exploration is at it’s best after a few puffs. This can definitely help in reducing depressive symptoms, as well as a way for us to have appreciation for our unique selves.

Research in this realm of health is emerging, and will continue to emerge; having important implications to our quality of life and well-being, as well as offering relief to those suffering from Depression.

Related article: 7 Tips for first time smoking weed, how to inhale, and more

About the Author

Lauren Ann is a passionate in the alternative medicine field. Lauren has her degrees; (BA) in Psychology Research and (MA) in Clinical Behavioral Health, as well as her M.S. in Human Nutrition. Lauren’s interests lie in empowering others to learn about the role of functional medicine in achieving optimal health and wellness. Lauren lives in Tiverton, RI with her Havanese puppy, Olls. Lauren enjoys being outside in nature, in addition to exercising, painting and reading. You can also connect with Lauren on LinkedInInstagramFacebook.

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