The power to imagine ourselves into the future and to bind those fantasies with memories of our past is what allows us to construct the story of our lives. It’s where we get a sense of self that endures beyond the fleeting moment of the now.
On the other hand, because so much of our present is overshadowed at both sides by the phantom anxieties of a thousand possible futures and the traumas of a past we cannot change, we human beings are burdened with incredible, dysfunctional levels of stress. That’s the Faustian bargain we’ve struck for our big-ass brains.
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And a hard bargain it is. We know that stress is a major factor for heart disease—which is still the leading killer of Americans—but it is also an important indicator for depression.Chronic stress reduces production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that do a lot to keep us happy, horny, and hungry.
Now scientists have found that lasting stress also depresses endocannabinoids—neurotransmitters similar to the active ingredients in cannabis (as if I need to tell you that)—and that, in turn, can depress us.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions distressed rats over the course of a week by (I’m guessing) doing something unspeakably wicked to them. Not surprisingly, the rats began to exhibit “depression-like” behavior. But here’s the part that justifies publishing a scientific paper: After the clinicians cut open the rats’ brains and looked inside (again, I’m guessing) they were able to correlate the rats’ unhappiness with the reduced levels of endocannabinoids they found there.
Senior research scientist Samir Haj-Dahmane provides the takeaway: “Using compounds derived from cannabis—marijuana—to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”
Of course, before we get there, we need to establish that what is true for lab rats holds true for humans in the wild. And, as with all cannabis research, we need to know more about the longterm effects. So for now the prescription is: patience and more studies.