VOL 23
Issue 11v28
Str Date: 2023.332.

Marijuana and Mental Health: High Hopes and the Endocannabinoid System

Marijuana and Mental Health:

High Hopes and the Endocannabinoid System

For decades, cannabis was the black sheep of the substance family. It was treated like a rebel teenager, constantly frowned upon as an illegal troublemaker, and labeled as a gateway “drug” to even more severe addictions. The government even classified it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, putting it on par with heroin and LSD. Talk about some severe reputation damage!

Things have changed; all but seven states now have some form of access to legal marijuana. It turns out cannabis isn’t the bad boy it was made to be. More research and studies have revealed that cannabis is more than just a misunderstood rebel. It’s a medicine with a knack for treating various chronic ailments. From anxiety and depression to sleep disorders and even the pain and symptoms associated with cancer, cannabis has proven a versatile healer.

The cannabis plant contains unique compounds called phytocannabinoids. The two major players are THC and CBD. These cannabinoids work together like a dynamic duo, interacting with our brain and body chemistry to relieve certain symptoms. Let’s dive into the science behind this green wonder.

The Endocannabinoid System

But what makes cannabis so effective? We must look closer at our bodies and the fascinating endocannabinoid system to understand that. The endocannabinoid system was discovered in the 1990s as scientists tried unraveling the mysteries of cannabis. They stumbled upon a network of receptors in the brain and body that interacted with the compounds found in cannabis, known as cannabinoids. These receptors were named CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly located in immune cells and peripheral tissues. It’s like having two teams of receptors—one controlling the brain’s domain and the other taking care of the body’s defense system.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Our bodies produce their own cannabinoids called endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, triggering biochemical reactions. Think of it as a lock and key system—cannabinoids are the keys that unlock the receptors, setting off a cascade of signaling processes.

This is where THC and CBD, the two primary cannabinoids in cannabis, come into play. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis use. It binds primarily to CB1 receptors in the brain, leading to various mood, memory, and perception effects.

On the other hand, CBD, or cannabidiol, doesn’t have the same psychoactive properties as THC. It interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors, but its effects are more nuanced. CBD has been found to modulate the activity of other neurotransmitters and receptors, potentially influencing pain perception, anxiety, and inflammation.

But not just THC and CBD make up the cannabis experience. The plant contains over a hundred other cannabinoids, each with unique properties and potential benefits. Some cannabinoids, like CBG (cannabigerol) and CBC (cannabichromene), have shown promise in reducing inflammation and providing neuroprotective effects. It’s like a symphony of cannabinoids, each playing its own note in the grand performance of cannabis.

When we consume cannabis, whether through smoking, vaporizing, or ingesting it, these cannabinoids enter our bloodstream and make their way to the endocannabinoid system’s receptors. THC binds to CB1 receptors, producing its characteristic psychoactive effects, while CBD and other cannabinoids interact with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, influencing various physiological processes.

The endocannabinoid system acts as a regulatory mechanism, helping to maintain balance and homeostasis in our bodies. It plays a role in regulating pain, mood, appetite, immune function, and more. When we experience inflammation, infection, or illness, our endocannabinoid system kicks into gear, restoring balance and bringing us back to a state of well-being.

Cannabis and Mental Health

Now let’s talk about mental health. Approximately 18% of people aged 18-54 experience anxiety disorders in a given year. That’s a lot of stressed-out folks! Traditionally, medical physicians prescribe different drugs to treat mental illnesses, from anti-depressants to anti-anxiety medications. But here’s the kicker: some of these drugs come with their own set of risks. The FDA has even warned about increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors in youth taking anti-depressants. Yikes! On top of that, drug overdoses are on the rise, surpassing 100,000 deaths in a year. Who knew the side effects could be scarier than the actual illness?

Enter cannabis, our unlikely hero. Research suggests that cannabinoids may alleviate pain and symptoms of common mental disorders. Considering that an estimated 26% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness in a given year, it’s no wonder that anxiety, depression, and stress are among the top reasons patients turn to medical cannabis. Move over, pills—there’s a new green sheriff in town!

But let’s not forget the importance of responsible usage. Cannabis can be a double-edged sword when it comes to anxiety. The strain, chemistry, dose, and the user’s mindset and environment all play a role. It’s like playing the delicate game of finding the perfect balance—too much THC might actually increase anxiety, especially for inexperienced users. So, start low and slow, my friends, and find that sweet spot of relief.

And a friendly reminder: always consult with a physician before incorporating medical cannabis into your treatment plan. They can help monitor your usage and ensure you’re on the right track to mental well-being.

Final Thoughts

While the science behind the endocannabinoid system is still being explored, its potential for therapeutic applications is becoming increasingly evident. By tapping into this intricate network, cannabis offers a unique avenue for treating mental health conditions and relieving those who need it most.

So, let’s raise a joint—I mean, a toast—to the potential of cannabis in mental health. May it continue to spark laughter, relieve burdens, and bring a little more joy to our journeys toward well-being. Stay lifted, my friends!


Co-Authored by Taylor I. Lytle

See Our Story for more about Taylor



– Backes, M., & Md, W. A. (2017). Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana — Revised and Updated (New). Black Dog & Leventhal.

Drugs That Treat Mental Illnesses. (2003, February 10). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/medications-treat-disorders

-Goldstein, B. (2020). Cannabis Is Medicine: How Medical Cannabis and CBD Are Healing Everything from Anxiety to Chronic Pain (1st ed.). Little, Brown Spark.

Hall, W., Hoch, E., & Lorenzetti, V. (2019). Cannabis use and mental health: risks and benefits. European Archives of Psychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience, 269(1), 1–3. https://doi-org.ezp.slu.edu/10.1007/s00406-019-00986-2

-Mental Health Disorder Statistics. (2019, November 19). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics

– U.S Department of Health & Human Services. (2022, April 21). Opioid Overdose. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration-SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/opioid-overdose

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