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Groundbreaking study reveals how the human body copes with stress

[Sept. 17, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Recent findings have unveiled an intriguing aspect of our brain's capacity to combat stress. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Recent findings from a study by Northwestern Medicine have unveiled an intriguing aspect of our brain's capacity to combat stress. Rather than looking at external sources like the Cannabis sativa plant, this study concentrated on the natural cannabinoids that our bodies produce independently.

In the quest to better understand and manage psychological conditions such as depression and PTSD, these revelations not only shine light on our brain's inherent processes but also hint at the dawn of innovative treatment avenues for these mental health disorders.


What Are Natural Cannabinoids?

Before diving into the study, it's essential to clarify what is meant by "natural cannabinoids." Contrary to the immediate assumption of compounds extracted from organically cultivated Cannabis sativa, these are, in fact, stress-reducing compounds generated autonomously by our bodies.


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Stress is recognized as the primary culprit behind a multitude of psychological disturbances, including chronic anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The chemical compound, cannabinoid, predominantly sourced from the Cannabis sativa plant, has the potential to temporarily attenuate brain stress levels.

Nevertheless, it's crucial to note that the general consumption of cannabinoids isn't a feasible or recommended solution due to its classification as an illegal drug, restricted for use in specific clinical situations.


Endocannabinoids: The Body's Self-made Stress-relievers

The focus of Northwestern Medicine's research was on unveiling the body's capacity to produce its unique suite of cannabinoids during moments of stress. These naturally occurring compounds, termed endocannabinoids, have been identified to stimulate neural receptors similar to those influenced by cannabinoids from the Cannabis plant. The result? A soothing effect on stress.

Cannabis sativa plant is the main source of Cannabinoids. (CREDIT: Jcomp on Freepik)

Endocannabinoids essentially function as an internal stress buffer, moderating our reactions in tense situations. Disruptions in the pathways of these cannabinoids could heighten the brain's susceptibility to psychological complications.


Delving Deep: The Study's Approach

The intricacies of our brain's emotional responses can be attributed to the amygdala, which responds to stress signals originating from the hippocampus.

To delve deeper into the role of natural cannabinoids, the research incorporated a unique protein sensor. This sensor demonstrated that intense activity in the amygdala could catalyze the release of endocannabinoids. These compounds subsequently diminish the brain's stress intensity and govern our reactions in such contexts.

Graphical abstract of how BLA activity promotes eCB release at vHPC-BLA synapses. (CREDIT: Cell Reports)

Employing mice as the primary subjects, the study gauged the presence of these natural cannabinoids during brain synapses under varied stress conditions. A notable observation was the diminished stress-coping prowess of the mice when the primary target for natural cannabinoids, the 'cannabinoid receptor type 1,' was eliminated.


Expert Insights: A Perspective from Dr. Sachi Patel

Dr. Sachi Patel, a prominent figure chairing the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, provided insights on the implications of these findings.

Corresponding study author Sachin Patel, MD, PhD, the chair and Lizzie Gilman Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a Northwestern Medicine psychiatrist. (CREDIT: Northwestern Medicine)

She remarked, "Understanding how the brain adapts to stress at the molecular, cellular and circuit level could provide critical insight into how stress is translated into mood disorders and may reveal novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of stress-related disorders."


The Road Ahead: Implications and Potential

Northwestern Medicine's groundbreaking exploration into the realm of endocannabinoids stands as a testament to the ever-evolving understanding of our brain's adaptive mechanisms under stress.

A virus expressing GRAB-eCB-2.0 was delivered to the vHPC, and Chrimson was delivered to the ipsilateral BLA. A fiber optic was implanted above the BLA. In vivo fiber photometry recordings were conducted to simultaneously record changes in GFP fluorescence and stimulate BLA neurons (n = 7 male mice). (CREDIT: Cell Reports)

As the healthcare sector, particularly in psychiatry, grapples with the complexities of stress-related disorders, this study holds the promise of paving the way for more refined and unique therapeutic techniques. The comprehension of endocannabinoids and their role could be the key to unlocking more effective interventions in the future.


As science continually unravels the mysteries of the human brain, it is studies like these that redefine our grasp on the intrinsic mechanisms that keep us resilient in the face of adversity. The potential applications and implications of understanding natural cannabinoids are undoubtedly vast and transformative for the realm of mental health.

For more science and technology news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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