Researchers Discover How Marijuana Works To Ease Anxiety

According to a 2009 study on young adults, being stressed or anxious are some of the primary reasons for smoking weed or taking CBD. Now, scientists believe they have uncovered how weed short-circuits brain connections linked to stress and anxiety disorders. They have discovered a molecule that affects an anxiety-producing super-highway in the brain. Their research has been published in a paper in the journal Neuron.

Scientists have found that a molecule called 2-AG appears to disrupt the production and transfer of neurochemicals linked to anxiety across two parts of the brain: the amygdala, the brain’s emotional processor, and the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s decision-maker. Their study, conducted in mice, shows 2-AG and cannabis affect the same receptors in the brain, the endocannabinoid system, to modulate anxiety.

If the trend holds true in humans, maybe 2-AG can be synthesized to calm anxiety without the negative side effects of chronic medical marijuana use. “If proven effective, this type of medication would be taken to cause a continuous elevation in 2-AG levels in the brain,” said Sachin Patel, study co-author and researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Patel and his team designed an experiment that exposed mice to acute stress over a 24-hour period and then put them through a maze while analyzing how areas of the brain responded. When the mice were exposed to stress, the anxiety pathway between their amygdala and prefrontal cortex strengthened, and they experienced higher levels of anxiety. This suggests stress or trauma makes the endocannabinoid system break down.

A new therapy that stops 2-AG levels from disappearing could prevent stress, and the associated anxiety, from appearing in the first place. The results will need to be validated in humans before any therapy can be developed. Patel hopes these studies will be conducted in the next three to four years.