serotonin and marijuana

Cannabis And Serotonin: Can This Relationship Treat Anxiety?

As cannabis consumers, we’ve all experienced how it can improve our mood and help us relax. But nowadays, we’re starting to see how these qualities may truly help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety – and it seems serotonin plays a major role.


The human body uses neurotransmitters to perform various functions. These “chemical messengers” communicate throughout the central nervous system. Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter made in the brain and intestines. It works to regulate mood, nausea, appetite, bone health, sleep, emotions, and even sexual function. The vast majority can be found in the gastrointestinal tract.

Serotonin is produced through a conversion process from essential amino acid tryptophan and tryptophan hydroxylase. Tryptophan can be found in common foodstuffs like cheese, red meat, and nuts. A lack of this amino acid in our diet will result in a serotonin level reduction. This, in turn, is linked to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. It’s because of factors like this that our diet is so closely linked to our mood and emotions.


The relationship between cannabis and serotonin is very interesting. Not only are cannabinoid receptors found [1] on serotonin neurons, they’re also apparent in the corresponding inhibitory receptors.

This leads to the conclusion that cannabinoids may increase serotonin levels in certain conditions, and reduce them in others. A migraine, for example, is a condition that correlates with increased serotonin levels in the brain. In this situation, the activation of inhibitory receptors would be the best solution to the problem. When one consumes THC in high doses, it triggers the inhibition of serotonin receptors. Just a few puffs of a jay will actually worsen your migraine. Once one recognises the importance of serotonin in mood disorders and the impact of cannabis on serotonin production, it’s easy to see how cannabis can really help patients suffering from certain mental illnesses.


In 2016, a study [2] was performed where mice were administered a chemical that mimics CBD. This led to the antidepressant effects one might expect from this calming cannabinoid. The interesting part was that when the researchers blocked the serotonin receptors, the effects were no longer noticeable. This further suggests that cannabinoids and the serotonergic system are in fact linked.

5 years before this, a paper [3] was published that showed how increasing endocannabinoid levels in the body made antidepressants more effective. The study also found that blocking CB1 receptors would completely stop the antidepressants from working.

This demonstrates how the endocannabinoid and the serotonergic systems work together in helping us achieve homeostasis. It also shows that if there is going to be a medicine developed, these two systems will have to be stimulated in a way that is balanced and supportive to the other. So is cannabis the future of antidepressants?


When comparing anxiety levels of 50 individuals who smoked cannabis regularly and 50 who didn’t smoke at all, a study [4] showed some interesting results. The patients who smoked marijuana experienced much lower levels of anxiety than those who didn’t. A 2012 paper [5] sought to assess multiple studies that looked into CBD as an anti-anxiety medication. Even though dosage and consumption mechanism are still factors that require more research, they concluded that CBD is an effective treatment for this psychological condition.

Before you embark on a healing journey with cannabis, it’s important you know what you’re doing. Not every strain will have the same effect on different people. It’s essential to keep track of how you feel in a “weed journal” of sorts. This will help you know which are your favourite strains as well as your ideal dosage and intake frequency. Another factor you need to pay attention to is THC. It isn’t always the best medicine to combat anxiety; CBD is what you really want. Look for strains that have a balanced THC:CBD profile or are CBD-dominant. Euphoria, Painkiller XL, and Stress Killer are three fantastic CBD strains from RQS to consider trying. The first two mentioned only have 9% THC, and Stress Killer has a manageable content of 11% THC.

As long as you stay informed and keep track of how you feel, you may very well feel a reduction in anxiety over time. Like many other scientific queries related to cannabis, so much more research is needed to confidently provide advice on the exact way to use cannabis as a treatment for various psychological disorders. What is encouraging, however, is that cannabis is a non-toxic substance that also seems to clearly interact with serotonin. In the future, we’re bound to see this relationship fleshed out further.

Find out how the relationship between cannabis and serotonin may help fight various psychological disorders like anxiety and depression.

Marijuana And Serotonin: What Is The Link?

Published : Mar 14, 2019
Categories : Medical cannabis

Cannabis shares its name with one neurotransmitter system, but it might share a special relationship with another. Links between the endocannabinoid system and the serotonin system run deep, and weed may have a direct impact on the brain’s serotonin levels. These findings could have vast implications on the treatment of anxiety and depression.

You may notice an overlap between serotonin and cannabinoid territory: both seem linked to happiness, mood, arousal and emotion. Coincidence? Or do these two neurotransmitter systems share a deeper relationship than anyone suspected?

We will dive into all facets of this question, including the relationship between endocannabinoids and serotonin, whether cannabis can fight depression, and what you can do about it.


Serotonin is neurotransmitter of the monoamine family, which also includes dopamine and epinephrine. Serotonin is linked to mood, sleep cycles, dominance hierarchies, digestion, wound healing, appetite, cognition, memory, and many other complex functions. 90% of the body’s serotonin is secreted by the cells of the GI tract and circulated by blood platelets. The remainder is located in the brain.


Low levels of serotonin are linked to mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, apathy, lethargy and meaninglessness. It can be deeply debilitating and can destroy a sufferers’ ability to function. Anxiety disorders are characterized by inappropriate and excessive activation of the sympathetic nervous system, and is characterized by frequent and sometimes objectless fear, stress and worry.

A common treatment for depression is to take SSRIs, which block the reuptake of serotonin and thereby increase its levels in the brain. Another class of antidepressants, MAOIs, also increase levels of serotonin by inhibiting enzymes that break down serotonin, along with dopamine and epinephrine.

Antidepressants help a lot of people, but they have some drawbacks. Many cause side effects, like weight gain, nausea, sexual problems, insomnia, dry mouth, constipation and blurred vision. Furthermore, some studies show that antidepressants can be ineffective or even counterproductive over the long term.

Anxiety is often treated with benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive and can interfere with the consolidation of memories.


The body’s endocannabinoid and serotonin systems seem to be closely linked. A 2011 study linked endocannabinoid dysfunction to anxiety and depression, and further, to serotonergic activity. Further research has shown that exocannabinoids have increase serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain particularly implicated in depression.

Cannabis has also been linked to serotonin activity in the 5-HT1A receptors of the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. Deficient activity of these receptors has been linked to anxiety. Cannabis has been shown to agonize these receptors, thereby potentially reducing the symptoms of anxiety.

Some studies have linked cannabis use with increased activation of the 5-HT2A serotonin system. These receptors are famous for their activation during psychedelic trips, and are linked to increased creativity, greater emotional sensitivity, and occasional hallucinations.


The relationship between cannabis and depression is complicated. One 2007 study found that at low doses, THC increased serotonin levels, but at high doses, it reduced them. This is likely due to the biphasic effects patterns of cannabis, where it sometimes produces opposite effects at high doses than at low doses.

A more recent study corroborated these results, and further found that an antidepressant and a cannabinoid administered at low doses seemed to behave in synergistic ways. This suggests that cannabis might be less a replacement for antidepressants than a supplement to them. It further found that antagonizing CB1 receptors—in other words, doing the opposite of THC—cancelled out the effects of antidepressants.

Another study increased the inhibitor of the enzyme that breaks down anandamide—one of the body’s main endogenous cannabinoids—and in that mimicked the effects of a MAOI but for endocannabinoids. This study found this treatment to be as significant as Citalopram in treating anxiety and depression, and linked this effect to 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A/C serotonin activity.

It’s not just the cannabinoids that fight mental illness. β-caryophyllene and D-limonene, both terpenes, were found to have powerful antidepressant and anxiolytic effects. It’s unclear how these effects are linked to the body’s serotonin systems.

The picture isn’t completely rosy, however. Long-term, chronic cannabis use has been linked to depression and alterations of the 5-HT family of serotonin receptors. There isn’t enough information to draw hard and fast conclusions, but these results should be enough to give pause to serious potheads with a tendency towards depression.


There’s an old rule of thumb: if you’re looking to fight depression, go with a sativa, and if you’re looking to fight anxiety, lean more towards the indicas. This is an oversimplification, but there’s some truth to it. As the studies above attest, for both depression and anxiety, it’s best to pick a strain with a broad range of cannabinoids and terpenes, and to stick to lower doses. Also, don’t discontinue your medication without medical supervision.


If you’re looking for a strain to kick your depression out, White Widow could do the trick. She’s a balanced hybrid, and so can be used for both depression and anxiety. If you’re feeling down, have no energy, or just want to refresh your state of mind, White Widow is an excellent strain to energize, uplift and clear your mind.


Northern Lights is a great choice for fighting anxiety. This indica-dominant hybrid relaxes the muscles of the body and the tensions of the brain, allowing for a full body rest. Northern Lights also has powerful euphoric effects, which may help relieve depression, if the user can deal with the possible inertia of an indica blast.


Super Silver Haze is an award-winning strain, known for its happy-making effects. It’s a sativa-dominant hybrid which produces clear, joyful effects. It also boosts the appetite, which could be helpful for those, whose depression is affecting their eating patterns. Super Silver Haze is high in THC, so medicinal users should regulate their dosage.

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Cannabis is famous for targeting your body's endocannabinoid systems, but might its effects run deeper? How is cannabis linked to serotonin?