Today’s conversational brain update looks at the cannabinoid system — yup the same that is activated by cannabis.
Cannabis on the brain — are you sure?
Not cannabis but cannabinoid molecules. But yes, they activate the same receptors in the brain as those from THC — the active component in cannabis.
So, we have our own canna…thingys in the brain?
Yes, the cannabinoid system is well known but not as well researched as other systems in the brain: this is what these researchers from Northwestern University in the USA looked into with some interesting results.
Ok, and what have we discovered then?
A few things that are intriguing and interesting for all of us. First off, as I said we know we have these receptors and molecules in the brain but how they precisely work and the networks are not so well known.
The researchers found that a network from an area called the amygdala releases these cannabinoid molecules. That is already interesting as this area is also considered a “fear” centre. But in this research they found that this counteracted stress alarm signals from another area called the hippocampus. This therefore acted as a dampening mechanism — effectively moderating stress.
Oh, so the amygdala is a fear centre and calming centre at the same time?
Kind of, the amygdala is actually more of a focusing centre designating emotional importance. But what is more interesting is the impacts of these cannabinoids. Or the effect of not having them.
What is that then?
Well, in second part of their research (in mice, I should note) they managed to remove the specific receptors to these cannabinoids and this altered mice behaviours. Simply they were less able to deal with stress and had motivational deficits.
Yes, that is the interesting bit. They became more passive and less responsive, but also less motivated to seek out rewards like sweetened water — which they normally love and guzzle down.
Oh wow, so what now?