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The ECS modulates our adaption to stress and impaired ECS function may relate to the development of PTSD (Hill 2013). The ECS can be modulated to enhance emotional learning (Chhatwal 2005). A common effective treatment strategy for both PTSD and its anxiety-related symptoms involves repeated exposure to the fear stresses without the threat of real danger so that the brain can “relearn” proper fear responses. CBD presents a potential pharmacological treatment for improving the learning that happens in the brain during these exposure-based treatments (Glangestas 2013). Cannabinoid receptor signaling is important to the facilitation of behavioural adaptation after a traumatic event.
CBD is seen to help patients cope with their behavioural and anxiety symptoms by dampening the strength or emotional impact of traumatic memories (Passie 2012). CBD may help because it promotes neurogenesis, as well as mimics the effect of cannabinoid receptor activation and facilitates endocannabinoid-mediated signaling (Campos 2013).
Repeated CBD administration has been shown to prevent long lasting anxiety effects (Campos 2012). CBD has also been shown to have therapeutically promising effects on human mental health such as the inhibition of psychosis and depression. CBD is pharmacologically similar to the makeup of typical antipsychotic drugs and is generally seen to be safe, well tolerated, and less toxic than other treatments.
CBD is beginning to be tested for the treatment of schizophrenia, and has so far shown to produce a significant improvement in symptomology, without the associated negative side effects of other antipsychotic medications. CBD was seen to significantly reduce acute psychotic symptoms after 2 to 4 weeks of treatment (Zuardi 2006). Typical antipsychotic medications can potentially cause devastating and sometimes permanent movement disorders as well as a reduction in motivation and pleasure. They can also lead to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes. These side effects were not experienced in patients taking CBD.
Additionally, the CBD seemed to work better on the hard to treat symptoms such as social withdrawal, blunting of pleasure, and lack of motivation (Szalavitz 2012).
Schizophrenics are said to have elevated levels of a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which activates the cannabinoid receptors and is a natural stress reliever and anti-psychotic. This is thought to be a side effect of the brain trying to relax itself, and sometimes results in an imbalance and change to the signaling for this process. THC mimics anandamide, whereas CBD seems to prevent anandamide from being destroyed, allowing the substance to exert its stress reducing and antipsychotic effects on the brain for longer periods of time (Szalavitz 2012). This gives cannabinoids the potential to bring the neurotransmitters to some form of homeostasis in the brain, which could lessen the symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Despite the growing interest in CBD for therapeutic value, the exact mechanisms of how CBD reacts with the ECS is still unclear and clinical trials and research are still in their infancy. Cannabinoid and ECS research may one day unlock the secrets of mental illness and provide great hope and relief to those who struggle with its symptomology.
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Chhatwal JP, David M, Magushchak KA, Ressler KJ. “Enhancing cannabinoid neurotransmission augments the extinction of conditioned fear.” Neuropychopharmacology, 2005: 516-524.
Glangestas C, Girard D, Groc L, Marsicano G, Chaouloff F, Georges F. “Stress switches cannabinoid type-1 receptor-dependent plasticity from LTD to LTP in the bed nucleus of stria terminalis.” J. Neurosci., 2013: 19657-63.
Hill MN, Bierer LM, Makotkine I, Golier JA, Galea S, McEwen BS, Hillard CJ, Yehuda R. “Reductions in circulating endocannabinoid levels in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder following exposure to the World Trade Center attacks.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2013: 2952-61. Neumeister, Alexander. “The endocannabinoid system provides an avenue for evidence-based treatment development for PTSD.” Depression and Anxiety, 2013: 93-96.
Passie T, Emrich HM, Karst M, Brandt SD, Halpern JH. “Mitigation of post-traumatic stress symptoms by Cannabis resin: a review.” Drug Test Anal., 2012: 649-59. Szalavitz, Maia. Marijuana compound treat schizophrenia with few side effects: Clinical trial. http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/30/marijuana-compound-treats-schizophrenia-with-few-side-effects-clinical-trial/, TIME Magazine, 2012.