Marijuana has always been associated with good feelings and endlessly pleasant sensations. Everyone knows that when you smoke some marijuana, you are in for an enjoyable time. But why does it do this? What is the reason behind this inexplicably happy sensation that seems to follow all good marijuana strains?
Instead of some kind of unexplainable phenomenon, it has to do with the release of a neurochemical called serotonin and the happy feelings it creates. But what is serotonin, and what is its connection to marijuana?
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it is used to help transmit messages between different nerve cells throughout the body.
Serotonin has an extremely established reputation as being responsible for all feelings of happiness and joy, but in actual fact, over 90% of all serotonin in the human body is contained within the GI tract, where it is used to help regulate the movements throughout the intestines.
However, serotonin is much better-known for what it does within the brain. Located within serotonergic neurons of the central nervous system, serotonin helps neurological cells within the brain form connections, enabling it to affect all manner of different functions in the body, such as the regulation of mood, your appetite, and even your sleeping patterns.
Thanks to its ability to affect these bodily functions, serotonin is frequently referred to as the “happiness hormone.” We know surprisingly little precise information about how serotonin actually affects the brain’s mood, only that it does seem to have a specific link to the sensation of happiness when released.
In fact, there is a great deal of scientific evidence, including a study by Philip J Cowen and Michael Browning for the Journal of World Psychiatry, showing that serotonin is intrinsically tied to depression; this means that people who struggle with depression suffer from a low level of serotonin release.
This means that any drug or medicine that induces the release of serotonin thus also encourages you to feel happy and joyful, as well as, hopefully, help combat depression. One of the most common treatments for depression is the prescription of SSRI antidepressants, which are designed to prevent the body from destroying serotonin and therefore increase its levels in the body.
So what does marijuana have to do with this? Is there some kind of link between marijuana and serotonin?
How Does Marijuana Affect the Body?
Marijuana, the recreational substance that so many people enjoy all around the world, is well known for its psychoactive effects, but these effects are actually caused by the primary chemical within marijuana, THC.
THC acts as the principal cannabinoid within marijuana, which, when imbibed, creates a number of effects on the human body.
Once it is broken down within the liver, it begins to react with the endocannabinoid system, the health system that runs throughout the human body and is responsible for all manner of different bodily functions.
THC interacts with the CB1 receptors within the endocannabinoid system, the majority of which are located within the brain; this allows it to interact with so many different functions within the brain. The CB1 receptor is, among many other things, at least in part responsible for the release of serotonin in the brain.
However, the precise relationship between marijuana and serotonin is still a little bit more complex; for starters, how does it actually encourage the release of serotonin using the CB1 receptors?
How Does Marijuana Affect the Release of Serotonin?
The really confusing thing about marijuana’s effect on the brain’s neurology is that, as of yet, we don’t fully understand the precise mechanisms behind it.
We know that when THC is imbibed, it attaches itself to the CB1 receptors and begins to stimulate them. What we don’t completely understand is what happens between the CB1 receptors being triggered and the subsequent release of serotonin.
One possible theory is that when the CB1 receptor is triggered, it acts to stop the deactivation chemical that tells the brain sends to ‘switch off’ the serotonin. This is similar to how CBD is able to help combat inflammation. By acting as an antagonist to the brain chemicals that are themselves the antagonists to serotonin, cannabinoids like THC can encourage the continued release of serotonin.
However, before you go and smoke as much marijuana as physically possible so as to try and feel as nice as possible, you should probably be a bit careful – you could be damaging your continued ability to release serotonin.
Although research is still in its early days, a study by Volkow et al., for the Journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that those who used marijuana at an extremely high rate suffered decreased brain reactivity with dopamine.
What seemed to happen is that, by continually dosing themselves with marijuana on a near-daily basis, their brains became over-sensitized to the serotonin and dopamine release that marijuana caused in the brain, which eventually led to requiring more and more marijuana to achieve the same effect.
This chain of constantly needing to increase the dosage eventually created a situation wherein the brain developed a reduced ability to react with dopamine and enjoy the sensation that chemicals like dopamine and serotonin usually provide.
Volkow et al.’s study showed that this problem persisted even after people stopped using marijuana, proving that there is a long-term problem with repeated cannabis use.
However, it is important to remember that this type of thing only happens when you use marijuana far, far too much and with far too high a frequency, so you won’t be at risk if you just use marijuana at a normal level.
Final Verdict About the Connection Between Marijuana and Serotonin
Marijuana will always have that special relationship to the sensations of joy and happiness – no matter what type or strain of marijuana you try; there will always be that underlying level of happiness and contentment that will wash over you after imbibing.
Although there is still an ample amount of research to be done on the subject, we now understand the inexorable link between marijuana and serotonin, and how effective marijuana could be in helping treat depression.
There may still be plenty left to learn, but at least we know that we can use marijuana to help encourage the release of serotonin – whether you are suffering from severe depression, or just need a good pick me up, marijuana might be just what you are looking for.