It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought hardship to countless people across the nation. According to a study conducted by the CDC, the trials of the pandemic have been associated with a steep upgrade in mental health challenges amongst American adults. From feelings of isolation to concern for financial future and fear of death itself, people all over the country report significant increases in anxiety, depression, and even considerations of suicide.
To compound the situation, Americans are no stranger to sadness. According to Dr. Rav Ivker in his book, Cannabis for Chronic Pain, “depression in its various forms afflicts about 25 million people in the United States. However, the actual number is estimated to be between 40 and 50 million. This is because 40% of sufferers forgo diagnosis or professional treatment.”
The takeaway? Americans have a case of the blues, and the pandemic isn’t helping. Clearly, something needs to happen.
Traditionally, symptoms of depression are treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medications. But not everyone has access to these services. Multiple studies continue to show that for mild to moderate depression, antidepressants work no better than a placebo. In the words of our friend Dr. Rav, “The combination of medication and conventional psychotherapy alone is often not effective without treatment of the body and spirit.”
Whether we define “spirit” in a religious context or simply as a feeling of being alive, there’s no question that it’s particularly important in times of struggle and change to make sure we’re feeding it with one commonly overlooked, but very essential nutrient: Joy.
Cannabis can help. But how?
If you’re one of over 500,000 medical cannabis patients in the state of Florida, you’re likely already familiar with cannabis’ potential to uplift the mood and calm the nerves. Of course, cannabis can’t solve life’s challenges all by itself – but used correctly, it has been known to help mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety while promoting an overall state of wellbeing. In essence, cannabis can’t cure our sadness, but it might give us an edge over our pain to make sure we have a fighting chance.
How does this phenomenon work? In order to understand how cannabis can help us in our pursuit of joy, let’s re-explore some weed 101.
Your Body on Cannabis
To understand cannabis’ happiness potential, we first have to appreciate the system of the body responsible for your ability to feel and respond to its effects.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
Located within every mammal, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a complex network of receptors, molecules, and enzymes that work synergistically to maintain bodily homeostasis – or balance of your cells.
In the same way that you and I have a respiratory system and a circulatory system, we also have an endocannabinoid system. Though it is not well-studied in mainstream medicine or taught in more than a handful of medical schools in the United States (yet), literally every other system of the body is regulated by this vast network of receptors.
These receptors interact with cannabinoids, the active compounds that make up the cannabis plant. When we get hurt, upset or sick, cannabinoids flood the receptors, bind to them lock-and-key style, and instigate chemical reactions that calm the body. When you smoke a joint after a long day or drop a few beads of tincture under your tongue in response to a headache, your cannabinoid receptors are at work.
The cannabis plant also contains terpenes, which are the compounds responsible for each variety’s unique smell and taste. Terpenes also affect each plant’s effects, but we’ll get to this a little later.
Cannabinoids and the Bliss Molecule
Still with me? Because this is where it gets really interesting. There are two different kinds of cannabinoids: phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. Both interact with and bind to receptors in our endocannabinoid system, helping us to feel better when times get tough.
If you take a look at these two prefixes, you’ll find that phyto means “of plants.” Phytocannabinoids are the chemical components that exist within the cannabis plant itself. CBD and THC are good examples of phytocannabinoids.
Conversely, endo means “within.” That’s right: completely independent of cannabis use, your body naturally produces its own internal cannabinoids! Studies show that both emotional and physical stressors elevate levels of endocannabinoids as the body seeks balance.
Anandamide (AEA) is one example. This homemade neurotransmitter mimics the activity of THC at the receptor when you’re feeling blue. Originating from the Sanskrit word Ananda, meaning “joy,” anandamide has an effect on everything from mood and quality of sleep to appetite and immune function. With its high profile for promoting feelings of happiness, it’s no wonder anandamide has been coined “The Bliss Molecule.”
People have been using cannabis for thousands of years to elevate their minds, unleash the giggles, and generally promote a greater sense of joy. Now that we understand how cannabis works, how can we apply this information when our spirits need a lift? Here are a few tips:
Have strain game
Different varieties of cannabis contain varying levels of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds that affect how uplifting its effects will be. While everyone’s response to cannabis is unique, many people find sativa-dominant products high in the terpene limonene to be the most uplifting. Limonene is a terpene with mood elevating and stress relieving properties, and it’s distinguishable by its fresh, citrus scent. Some strains thought to promote happiness and euphoria include Girl Scout Cookies, Tangerine and Lemon strains, Pineapple Express and Sour Diesel. When in doubt, talk to your favorite budtender about which mood-enhancing strains and products your local dispensary carries.
Upgrade your self-care
Cannabis isn’t just for smoking anymore. From beauty products to massage oils, countless products exist on the market to help enhance your self-care routine. Consider dropping a CBD bath bomb into your tub for some extra relaxation, experimenting with cannabis skincare products to soothe sore joints, or adding cannabis oil to your favorite batch of cookies to improve the quality of your sleep.
Never underestimate the power of cannabis and a good friend to boost your mood. If you have friends or family who also have Florida cannabis cards, reach out to discuss new products, schedule a cannabis cooking date or enjoy an elevated nature walk. Social distancing? Connect with your 420-friendly community online for a virtual smoke session or sign up for a cannabis-themed virtual event.