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Endocannabinoid Tone and Depression

Endocannabinoids or CBD for Depression?

Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness.

While feeling sad is a natural response to some situations and life events, depression is when that feeling continues for days, weeks or even years.

In the UK, the Priory Group estimates that 4.5% of adults have some form of depression.

They also report that 24% of women have had it at some time in their life, compared to 13% of men.

While depression is usually characterised by intense feelings of sadness, it can present slightly differently from person to person. Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling unhappy
  • Feeling hopeless
  • A lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling tearful 
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Low sex drive
  • Suicidal thoughts

Many different things can cause depression; it could be a life event such as divorce, bereavement or money worries.

Some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to depression, and others may develop it following an illness or a period of poor health.

Women are particularly vulnerable to developing depression during pregnancy or after giving birth.

Current NHS treatment for depression can involve a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or a prescription for antidepressant medication. 

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CBD and Your Endocannabinoid Tone

CBD raising the body's Endocannabinoid Tone

CBD works in your body in many different ways, but one of the most vital interactions is how it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and raises your endocannabinoid tone:

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system is a collection of signal molecules (endocannabinoids), receptors and enzymes.

It's active throughout the body, particularly in the central and peripheral nervous systems. 

When the ECS is activated, it makes tiny chemical adjustments that enhance the signalling capacity of cells within your body.

This allows your body systems to communicate effectively and quickly restore a healthy balance following damage or illness.

What is your endocannabinoid tone?

Endocannabinoid Tone

Endocannabinoid tone refers to the level of potential endocannabinoid activity in your body and the ability of your endocannabinoid system to respond to any problems.

This can be affected by a range of factors, including genetics, diet, stress and disease.

If your endocannabinoid tone is low, your endocannabinoid system is unlikely to be able to restore your body systems to a state of healthy balance. As a result, you may feel unwell or experience symptoms related to anxiety. 

Regular consumption of CBD can stimulate the action of your endocannabinoid system (ECS) and raise your tone. 

To learn more about how CBD raises your endocannabinoid tone, you can read our article: Endocannabinoid Tone and CBD.


Key terms:

Cannabinoid Receptors in the body

CB1 and CB2 – These are the most common endocannabinoid receptors.

  • CB1 is found in the central nervous system.
  • CB2 is present in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system and in immune cells throughout the body.

Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) – These are endocannabinoid signalling molecules present in humans and animals. They can interact with a range of chemical receptors, including CB1 and CB2.

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Endocannabinoid Tone and Depression

What is happening inside your body and brain when you’re depressed is extremely complex and occurs across a range of organs and systems. 

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that severe bouts of depression are primarily linked to a dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

The HPA axis is the name of the interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.

Together they form a system that dictates and controls the body’s reaction to stress.

This ensures that the body is ready for the fight or flight response. It is also in control of stepping down these responses when a threat has passed.

Overstimulation of the HPA axis may likely prevent it from working correctly and lead to various conditions, including depression, stress, anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The Endocannabinoid System and the HPA axis

Recently scientists have found strong links between the HPA axis and the ECS.

Several studies have backed this up and indicate that a key role of the ECS is to reduce the activation of the HPA axis, this then allows the body to properly recover from any stress stimulus.

Exactly how this occurs is not yet clear because the activation of endocannabinoid receptors has been observed to have different effects in different parts of the HPA axis. In some areas, they reduce depression, while in others, they promote it.

In addition, the components of the ECS are often present at the centre of other complex systems.

This will likely have a role in the results they can produce and means that there are multiple different reactions and interactions going on simultaneously.

Naturally High Endocannabinoid Tone

However, on the whole, a naturally higher endocannabinoid tone enhances the ability of the ECS to regulate the HPA axis and reduce the effects of depression. 

Other Interactions

Scientists have also discovered that the interaction with the HPA axis isn’t the only way the ECS exerts antidepressant effects.

CB1 receptors are present throughout the limbic system and have been observed to interact with and modulate GABA receptors and serotonin receptors

If you have a high endocannabinoid tone, your body will likely be better able to activate these systems and dampen your response to stress.

As a result, your body can restore itself to a state of healthy balance and reduce the symptoms of depression.

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