CBD, the non-psychoactive (does not alter state of one’s mind) component of the cannabis plant, has gained tremendous popularity recently because of its proposed therapeutic effects. The headline of this news cycle was the June 2018 decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the use of a purified form of CBD oil (Epidiolex) for treating two types of epilepsy (see a previous blog post by me to read more about this!).
In this blog, I hope to cover what is known about another potential effect CBD may have on the body, which may be revolutionary for the way that we think about and treat mental health.
Could CBD be a replacement for Serotonin?
Serotonin is a very important chemical that nerve cells produce. Serotonin impacts many parts of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills, and has been shown to help reduce depression and anxiety, among other ailments.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which sounds complicated, but is essentially just a chemical that sends signals between nerve cells. To do this, neurotransmitters will attach to receptors in the body. Once attached, the receptor will be activated by this signal, producing a chemical effect in the body.
You can think of neurotransmitters and receptors as a set of keys and locks, where certain keys will work in certain locks. With this in mind, it is easy to understand that there are specific neural pathways (combinations of locks and keys) in the body with which serotonin will work.
To date, there have been 14 neural pathways identified for serotonin. In other words, there are 14 different locks that serotonin can unlock.
Great interest has arisen surrounding one neural receptor that serotonin has been known to activate in the brain, known as the 5-HT1A receptor. When activated by serotonin, the 5-HT1A receptor inhibits the firing of the message that this receptor normally sends (in the form of 5-HT neurons).
Many antidepressant and antipsychotic medications have targeted this specific process because low serotonin levels are attributed to anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, low self-esteem, and obsessive or negative thoughts and behaviors. However, it is possible that these low serotonin levels can be reversed through the use of CBD.
Research by scientists at Univ. of San Paulo in Brazil and King’s College in London suggests that CBD can also activate this receptor, thus acting as a replacement for serotonin. Unfortunately, for nearly the last half century, research into the serotonin system and medicines for antidepressants, among other ailments, such as mood control, have been dominated by efforts to develop drugs to manipulate the this system through SSRIs.
SSRIs is short for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which is just a fancy way to say that they inhibit the absorption of serotonin in the body, thus allowing there to be more available to perform its function.
Additionally, (and even more alarming!) this is taken directly from the white papers of Prozac, “Although the exact mechanism of PROZAC is unknown, it is presumed to be linked to its inhibition of CNS neuronal uptake of serotonin.”
With this in mind, the most recent active research in this field has focused on natural, non-pharmacological methods to increase brain serotonin function for improved mood and behavior. The work by the researchers at Univ. of San Paulo and King’s College falls under this category. However, it is important to note that their study was a review of animal models and not humans using CBD as an antidepressant, which emphasizes the infancy of this field of study.
Thus, although the research just getting started, CBD is exciting because it introduces the possibility of a natural remedy rather than laboratory manufactured drugs (meditation, exposure to bright light, exercise, and diet are also suggested to help!). No prescription is needed and a much cheaper price point can be accomplished compared to the high price of prescription drugs and treatment.
I am excited to follow the coming developments in this field!
Thanks for reading!
Interested in trying CBD oil for yourself? Here is where I get mine.