To live a normal, healthy life, it is crucial that you have the ability to forget fear. If the human body and mind remembered every scary moment ever felt, it would not be able to function properly. You get sick, mentally, physically, often both. One of the defining characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is broken fear extinction, a process essential to helping the brain forget traumatic situations.
According to the journal Nature, a new study from the Netherlands’ Leiden University analyzed the role of anandamide, a naturally produced endocannabinoid in the human body, in fear extinction. They pioneered a technique especially for this study, one that inhibits the production of anandamide in the brain. The results are profound, and will likely have you visiting a recreational cannabis dispensary.
The study might have huge implications for treating PTSD with cannabis in the future. In the United States alone, millions of survivors of trauma, as well as millions of military veterans, are already using medical marijuana to treat PTSD and help manage its symptoms. However, scientists are still trying to understand the exact mechanisms of action involved in this process of healing.
Using Your Own Endocannabinoids
Your body functions because of your endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating most processes. It is also how tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is able to make you “high.” It does this by binding to your endocannabinoid receptors, specifically cannabinoid receptor 1, or CB1. Its less notable effects, like modulating immune function, occur by interacting with cannabinoid receptor 2, or CB2.
Cannabinoids are plant versions of endocannabinoids. They work much the same way, as well. The discovery of CB1 and CB2 receptors by Mechoulam et al in the early 1990s found these compounds stimulating receptors naturally to perform certain functions. Called endocannabinoids, your body contains many, all with their own specific jobs, such as pain perception, emotions, even memory.
Role of Anandamide
You have dozens of different endocannabinoids, the two most famous and most studied being 2-AG and anandamide, or AEA. You might recognize anandamide as the “bliss molecule,” the one that leaves you feeling very happy after a hard workout or other exertion, mental or physical. This feeling is why anandamide has the Sanskrit name, which literally translates to “bliss.”
Also called “the runner’s high,” this euphoric feeling is sadly very short lived. It lasts only a short while because anandamide is never on its own. It releases with a fatty acid, amide hydrolase, or FAAH, a molecule that specifically breaks anandamide down. This relationship is interesting. The fewer FAAH around, the longer anandamide will last. The more there are the shorter anandamide’s effects.
There is mounting evidence showing how reducing the expression of FAAH makes all manner of feel-good moments last significantly longer. Anandamide is what makes us feel better, even wonderful, and it does this by triggering the brain’s reward center directly. The more anandamide is in your body, the longer this feeling will continue.
Switching Anandamide Off
Led by team leader Mario van der Stelt, the scientists at Leiden University started wondering just what would happen if they attempted the opposite, which is to lower levels of anandamide produced in the brain instead of decreasing FAAH. However, nothing existed for them to do that. Finding a tool to slow anandamide production would give a more detailed analysis of all just what it does in the body.
This is what the team then decided to try. By suppressing production of one of the molecules responsible for triggering production of anandamide, the team was able to identify a compound that would do the same job. It did not inhibit production totally, because the body makes anandamide in a few ways. However, by decreasing its production even partially, they could test the role it plays.
Stress and Traumatic Memory Control
The team then suppressed anandamide in a group of mice and compared them to the behavior of normal mice. Those with blocked anandamide suffered noticeably more stress than the normal group. They even had higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. The low anandamide group also maintained a state of conditioned fear much longer than the group of normal mice, which seemed to forget quicker.
The compound developed by van der Stelt’s team does not target anandamide specifically. It suppressed OEA, PEA, and other endocannabinoids too. This means that any behavioral changes noticed in the mice could be the result of changes in levels of any of these related compounds. However, anandamide appears the most likely one responsible for these observable differences in stress behavior.
This discovery, although extremely technical, is an essential one. It is now the very first study of its kind to evidence that lower levels of anandamide play a role in negatively emotional behavior. It could even explain why folks develop PTSD in the first place, that their brains might not be producing sufficient levels of anandamide to maintain emotional balance.
Furthermore, it might well explain why people with PTSD have such visceral flashbacks of the traumatic event long after it happened. These people literally do not have the mechanism they need to be able to forget these memories and let them fade into their past. They do not have enough anandamide. These findings suggest that increasing anandamide levels could help them finally make their fear extinct.
Effect of Cannabis on Anandamide Production
Several other studies show cannabis stimulating the production of anandamide and increasing levels of it in the body. This means folks feel happier, less stressed. It allows them to forget their fears for a time, eventually forgetting them entirely, or enough to make them less traumatic over the long term. The implications of this for treating PTSD can be lifesaving for those suffering with this debilitating condition.
The only way to know if marijuana will help you forget your traumatic experiences and associated fears is to try it yourself. PTSD qualifies you for medical marijuana, but if you live in California, you can get the finest quality at any recreational cannabis dispensary. Alternatively, weed delivery is incredibly popular in Los Angeles, in fact the entire state. You can order it from the comfort of home.