Studies researching psychosomatic effects of social isolation on animals showed, that these type of environment changes can have a very strong negative effect on our endocannabinoid system. Changes in endocannabinoid levels in the limbic and brain areas, due to stressful moments, a person is more inclined to scared, negative thoughts, and aggressive behavior. Consequently, social isolation can lead to a negative spiral, which also reduces natural neuroendocrine levels in our body and triggers a series of risk factors that can lead to health problems. In this article, we will discuss the psychosomatic effects of isolation, their effect on our mental health, and activities that have the potential to regulate consequences and endocannabinoid tone such as the use of probiotics and cannabidiol, as well as meditating and physical activity.
On the Dragon Blog we often write about cannabinoid and endocannabinoid system effects to maintain homeostasis in our bodies. Furthermore, this vast system of cell receptors and enzymes also affects our mental health, cognition, emotions, and other brain processes. The working of our endocannabinoid system in connection to our brain is especially important in the current situation, where epidemiological measures, stress, anxiety, and many other factors strongly affect our mental health.
PSYCHO – SOCIAL EFFECTS OF SOCIAL DISTANCING
The measures against the spread of COVID-19 have entirely or at least partly stopped the world, which had a direct effect on almost half of the world population. Billions of lives have been altered and there is a multi-level stress mitigation process in progress.
Historically, social isolation was used on an advanced level as a research model for psychosis, suicide, anxiety, and depression. Endocannabinoid system is involved in all these conditions through various pathways, including modulation of hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) function. Social isolation was directly connected to increased incidence of suicide and is considered as the main factor contributing to suicide and enhancing abnormal behaviors, including increase in anxiety and depressive behavior.
A group of researchers at University of Padova, Italy, published research in “Frontiers in Psychiatry”, which concludes that actions improving endocannabinoids tone could help individuals with potential consequences of urgent public health measures, minimize various psycho-physical effects, and with it improve our mental health.
In relation to current available knowledge of the relation between social isolation in animals and the function of endocannabinoid system, the authors suggest strengthening of the endocannabinoid system with probiotics, CBD, meditation, and physical activity can lead to less negative, fear inducing thoughts and decrease in aggressive behavior in individuals during stressful moments such as lockdowns or quarantines. Boosting your health in this way can help with other biological reactions which can cause medical complications, as well.
THE ROLE OF ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
Readers who are not yet familiar with the basics of endocannabinoid system and cannabinoids, can read more about it here. One of the previous articles can also be useful as an introduction to the further topics discussed. You can find it here.
Let’s start with CB1 receptor, which is greatly present in the brain. Although, endocannabinoid system is involved in every part of the brain, CB1 receptors are most densely spread in the key areas for stress and emotion control. These are the pre-frontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. A bit less dense they also appear elsewhere, where they help with modulation of neurotransmitter release among other functions. The main agonists of CB1 receptor, which is activated with various cell response generation, are two endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) anandamide and 2-AG, and one Phyto cannabinoid THC. Furthermore, endocannabinoid system signaling is heavily regulated by metabolic enzymes, including FAAH fatty acid and monoacylglycerol lipase MAGL, which strongly hydrolyzes anandamide and 2-AG.
It is no surprise then, that cannabis and other foods as well as physical activity, which enhance our endocannabinoid system, can have a profound positive effect on our brain functions. Although, we must learn a lot more, research points to many positive effects for various body parts, including mental health.
Disturbances in Endocannabinoid and HPA Tone
Past studies have shown that antagonism or genetic removal of CB1 triggers anxiety. Stress, fear, and negative emotion that many feel in these times of uncertainty, can change the expression of CB1 receptor in amygdala, basal ganglia (reward system) and pre-frontal cortex.
Social isolation also worsens the state of endocannabinoid system in hypothalamus. It’s a part of the brain which is also included in the start and manifestation of aggressive behavior, and behavior connected to fear among mammals. Studies demonstrate that changes in the endocannabinoid system effect our stress response and increase anxiety. Additionally, they have shown that cortisol levels are higher in chronically isolated individuals.
SOCIAL INTERACTION AND MOTIVATION
Studies published in August 2021 suggest, that increase endocannabinoid system activity is also connected to improved social interaction and motivation (at least in mice). In the first study published in “Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research”, researchers in Italy dosed mice with “non-psychotropic” CBD cannabis with very low amounts of THC for two weeks, to find out the effects on their behavior. Although, they did not find an effect on movement or anxiety, they did notice the increase in social interaction.
In the second study published in “Journal of Neuroscience”, researchers from New Mexico, Minnesota, and Maryland used monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) inhibitor for increase 2-AG endocannabinoid levels, to measure the effect of goal pursuit in mice. They found that it helps with goal pursuit. This result supports the cannabinoid therapies for treating motivation disorders.
STRESS, FEAR, AND ANXIETY
Endocannabinoid system has well proven role in fear regulation and anxiety related behavior in people and rodents. Increased signaling of endocannabinoid system is connected to decrease of conditional fear and anxiety. Inhibited endocannabinoid system results in the opposite effect. These effects are mainly dependent on endocannabinoid system signaling inside the corticolimbic structures such as pre-frontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. Signaling of endocannabinoid system in these parts is especially important during development, when corticolimbic and connected emotional behavior go through dynamic changes, and the risk for disorders such as anxiety increases. Furthermore, all these changes can lead to sleep disorders, which can have an additional negative effect on our mental health. You can get to know the effect of cannabinoids and endocannabinoid system on sleep disorder regulation here.
EFFECTS OF CANANBINOIDS AND OTHER FOOD
During the lockdown in Canada and some of the states in USA, cannabis was declared as a commodity. Due to this, cannabis shops could continue with their activity. Studies have shown that depressive behaviors connected to social distancing could be regulated with the activation of cannabinoid receptors. Isolation causes a decrease in dopamine D2 receptor levels in pre-frontal cortex, which we can prevent with stimulation of CB1 receptors. Because lockdowns and social distancing are a threat for increased risk of aggression, the use of cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis compound which has anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, and anti-psychotic properties, could become an effective solution. CBD was tested on isolated animals, where it confirmed its positive effects in aggressive behavior regulation via mechanism connected to an increase in anandamide (AEA) levels and inhibition of FAAH, and activation of 5-HT1A and CB1 receptors.
It is proven, that our microbiome is strongly connected to the emotional behavior and changes due to stress. Microbiome disturbances cause functional changes in endocannabinoid system tone and behavioral changes connected to depressive states. In this way, consumption of probiotics could potentially improve depressive behavior and stimulate endocannabinoid system tone by increasing anandamide (AEA) levels. Other dietary changes could change the gut microbial metabolism and production of glucocorticoid as well. One of the studies showed that daily ingestion of 40g of dark chocolate for two weeks was enough, to decrease the stress hormone cortisol levels and its negative effects.
Other food compound that can enhance our endocannabinoid system tone can also be found in black pepper, black truffles, and other black foods, as well as in capers, blueberries, saffron, arugula, and many other plants. You can read more about the effect of cannabinoids on our microbiome in one of our past articles here.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND MEDITATION
Physical activity has been proven to be a great factor in maintaining positive mental health, decreasing anxiety, and reduction of depression symptoms. Physical activity was already advised during the pandemic due to prevention of metabolic and immunologic disturbances. However, it is also interesting that movement also modulates the balance of endocannabinoid system, which is very important from neurobiological and psychosomatic point of view. Increased levels of endocannabinoids could already be found after a light run, cycling, hiking, and other easy aerobic exercise.
The available data on neuropsychologic views on meditation show the importance of holistic approach, which includes the inseparable environment of the mind, brain, and body. Data suggests that meditation can improve meta-cognitive control and triggers intentional change in activation / deactivation of unconscious part of the brain, which leads to amazing results. In this way, meditation can improve our awareness, mindfulness, meta-cognition, and re-structures the patient’s problem.
RESILIENCE AND ADAPTATION
In diversities and distress in life, resilience to change plays a major role. Resilience is the ability to withstand adversities in life by keeping the homeostasis. From physiological perspective, keeping of homeostasis is the primary function of the endocannabinoid system. During stressful moments, the endocannabinoid tone changes in the limbic parts and pre-frontal cortex, which makes individuals more prone to fear, negative thoughts, and aggressive behavior.
From psychological point of view, resilience is the ability to overcome or quickly recover from difficult conditions, such as the ones connected to family, social relationships, financial stressors, work related or health problems. It is a dynamic process of biological and psychological adaptation including emotional and intellectual aspects and their management in socio-cultural and environmental interactions, that allow better adaptation and coping with the help of cognitive improvements and self-transformation.