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How the Endocannabinoid System is Connected to Your Emotions

How the Endocannabinoid System is Connected to Your Emotions

Whether we choose to recognize it or not, the emotional self and the physical self are intimately connected. A stressful event or other external stimuli will not only trigger a response on one side of the equation, but will instantaneously create a reaction on the other side. Any change to either the emotional or the physical inner response mechanisms can have dramatic repercussions for the other. This essentially means that a physical response to stress (increased heart rate and blood pressure) can instantly cause an emotional reaction (fear, anxiety, stress). The same goes in the other direction, although using emotions to influence a biological reaction typically requires a bit of long-term practice. For example if you experience an immediate physical reaction to an external stressor, you can practice certain emotional exercises (breathing, meditation, and positive thinking) to help reduce the physical response.

Considering the amount of individual inter-cellular communication that happens each and every moment between our physical self and our emotional self, plus the speed by which the communication happens (roughly at the speed of sound) -  it’s no wonder that they are so deeply intertwined. The endocannabinoid system plays an important role for this chemical signaling, and scientists are beginning to understand that cannabinoids are responsible for the regulation of mood, emotion, memory and motivation, among many other internal processes. Understanding how the endocannabinoid system in responsible for emotional response is a brand new area of research, and one that is only just beginning to scratch the surface.

Endocannabinoid Function and Happiness

There is undoubtedly increased levels of depression, anxiety and mood disorders affecting modern society. The numbers of people turning rather blindly towards the quick fix of pharmaceuticals is astronomical, and very few understand the associated risks. Despite the proliferation of prescriptions, doctors and researchers still do not fully understand long term effects of antidepressants and SSRIs on the mind and body. They also are only just beginning to grasp that these medications may have a direct influence on the endocannabinoid system. This is part of the reason why doctors and scientists alike have started expanding their horizons, in order to explore the endocannabinoid system’s effect on happiness.

What researchers do know so far is that there are two different states of positive emotional wellbeing, including a long term satisfaction with one's state of affairs (eudaimonia), and a shorter term burst of positive sentiment (hedonia). Both of these types of emotional states, are influenced by the endocannabinoid system. This system protects our mind and body from negative external influences and tempers positive stimuli so that they are not overwhelming. The endocannabinoid system is perpetually trying to achieve the perfect internal balance, also called homeostasis, in response to external stimuli.

In response to external stressors, the endocannabinoid system will trigger the release of certain cannabinoids, each responsible for a different emotional reaction and thus a different physical response. For example external influences, like specific foods or intense exercise will trigger the release of anandamide, also called the bliss molecule. Other things can trigger its release as well, including phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC and perhaps most interestingly, anandamide also responds to a focused meditative state. In the latter case, this means that scientists have found increased levels of anandamide in people who have consciously shifted their mindset, and gotten into the “zone” or are in a concentrated meditative state. What this means is that when you feel your best (and perform your best) your brain releases tons of positive endocannabinoids within your body, making you feel even better.

Endocannabinoids and their Equivalent Emotional Response

Molecule

Emotional Response

Acetycholine

Remembering

Anandamide

Relaxation

Endogenous opioids

Euphoria after cessation of pain

Gamma-aminobutyric acid

Tranquilizer

Oxytocin

Empathy

Serotonin

Happiness

Epinephrine

Fear

Dopamine

Motivation

Norepinephrine

Attention

Cortisol

Stress

Glutamate

Excitement

Vasopressin

Agression

Conscious Disruptions and Interventions

As scientists now understand it, endocannabinoids are constantly working to achieve homeostasis even in response to seemingly unrelated triggers. For example, paracetamol (a common over the counter pain-killer) blocks the reabsorption of anandamide. Healthy foods, like essential fatty acids, probiotics and vitamins all influence the proper functioning and healthy balance of endocannabinoids within our systems as well. If someone were to only consume junk foods, salts, and unhealthy fats, this puts considerable stress on their physical wellbeing, but also their emotional wellbeing. A stress on one system will have serious repercussions on the other because the emotional and physical systems are so intimately connected.

With this in mind, many researchers have considered the opposite directional influence. What if your emotional state can have physical responses? While meditation and conscious intervention has long been the domain of religious practice, they are now being proposed for the everyday practitioner in order to elevate the health of the mind and body. After all, when the endocannabinoid system releases one of the above endocannabinoids it not only causes a shift in emotion, but also literally changes your body's chemical makeup.

While negative emotions like fear, anger and anxiety all have a specific necessary place in our lives, they should not be allowed to fester. Long term exposure to negative emotions and their endocannabinoid chemical counterparts, can lead to physical degradation and increased health issues. One famous example is the way chronic stress prevents the body from performing its natural biological processes like menstruation and digestion. Developing a deeper understanding of our emotions, and practicing conscious emotional interventions (meditation, positive thinking, mantras), can help foster self-healing at a biological level.

References

http://www.eviolabs.com/uploads/7/7/5/3/77536678/the_science_of_cultivating_happiness_abstract.pdf

http://reset.me/story/anandamide-putting-the-bliss-molecule-to-work-for-your-brain/

Blesching, Uwe. The Cannabis Health Index. North Atlantic Books, 2015. Print.

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