Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is a neurotransmitter, which has a complex and diverse biological function. Some experts define it as a hormone as well. It affects our mood, cognition, reward system, learning, memory, and many other physiological processes. Serotonin sends signals between our nerve cells and is mostly present in our brain, intestines, and blood platelets.
It is composed of amino acid called tryptophan. This amino acid enters our body through ingested food and can often be found in foods such as nuts, cheese, and red meat. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower levels of serotonin in our body. Furthermore, this can result in disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Much research determined what exactly it is and what it does, however more knowledge has to be acquired to completely understand the entire mechanism.
WHAT SEROTONIN AFFECTS?
It affects every part of our body, from emotions to motor skills. It is considered as a natural mood stabilizer and is a compound that helps us with sleeping, eating, and digestion. It can also help with:
- Wound healing,
- Maintaining bone health,
- Overcoming nausea,
- Anxiety regulation,
Below you can read about how serotonin affects different parts of our body functions.
DIGESTION: It is primary found in our stomach and gastrointestinal tract. It helps control and manage our digestion.
NAUSEA: It is a part of the reason why we get nauseous. Serotonin production increases to push out inappropriate food, which upsets our body much faster. Compound level also increases in our blood, which stimulates the part of the brain that control nausea.
BONE HEALTH: It also plays its part in bone health, as a very high levels of serotonin in our bones can lead to osteoporosis, which results in weaker bones.
SLEEP: It is responsible for stimulating the part of the brain that control sleep and wokeness. Being asleep or awake depends on the stimulated area and which serotonin receptor is being used.
MOOD: In the brain it is connected to regulation of anxiety, happiness, and mood. Serotonin deficiency is connected to depression. Moreover, serotonin levels induced by medication are connected to a decrease in arousal.
BLOOD CLOTTING: Platelets release serotonin, which helps with wound healing. Consequently, it causes narrowing of small arteries and helps with blood clotting.
SEX DRIVE: Low levels of serotonin are connected to increased libido, while higher levels are connected to decreased libido.
HOW CAN WE NATURALLY INCREASE SEROTONIN LEVELS?
Besides pharmaceutical products, there are also natural ways of increasing serotonin levels in our body:
- Bright light exposure – sunlight or light therapy are commonly suggested as treatments for seasonal depression.
- Physical exercise – regular exercise can affect in mood improvement.
- Healthy diet – food that can increase its levels in our body includes eggs, cheese, turkey, nuts, salmon, tofu, and pineapple.
- Meditation – Meditation can reduce the effects of stress and improves positive life outlook, which strongly improves serotonin levels.
HOW CANNABIS AFFECTS SEROTONIN?
Endocannabinoid system (ECS) is not the only one that regulates our nervous system and immune system. Serotonin system is also involved in this process. Cannabis also affects this system. You can read more about the endocannabinoid system and its role in our body here.
The Effects of CBD
CBD has an inhibitor function in tryptophan degradation triggered by cytokines. This allows CBD to increase tryptophan levels in unstimulated brain areas. As tryptophan is the key compound in serotonin production, an increase in tryptophan bioavailability can lead to increased levels of serotonin.
It is well known; CBD can help with stress and anxiety mitigation. Furthermore, it is also interesting it can have an effect via 5-HT1A serotonin receptor. This receptor is connected to conditions such as anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, pain, and nausea. When CBD binds to this receptor, it can affect all these functions. Unfortunately, it is not yet known how strong this effect is and what are the connected mechanisms. There are many studies involving sleep, anxiety, and appetite with positive correlation. However, there is a small number of them, connected to addiction.
Another important CBD target is 5-HT2A receptor, which is responsible for stress, anxiety, and headaches, among other functions. CBD shows weak affinity towards this receptor and is most probably its weak antagonist.
The third serotonin receptor which CBD affects is 5-HT3A. This receptor operates under different principles as the previous ones. It works as an ion channel. It is responsible for mood changes, nausea, and pain signaling. Antagonists of this receptor are often used in treating nausea and vomiting, due to chemotherapy. Cannabinoids such as CBD are strongly negative allosteric modulators of this receptor. This means cannabidiol (CBD) can change the channel structure in a way that the receptor is less “motivated” to bind its domestic serotonin.
It is also useful to know the direct effects of CBD on the serotonergic system. Cannabidiol can also regulate its domestic neurotransmitter metabolism. It can achieve this in two ways:
- With mediation of raphe nuclei activity by the endocannabinoid system – one of the main areas of serotonin production. Increased ECS activity (due to increased levels of anandamide – due to CBD) stimulates its production and release. This results in acceleration of the entire system without CBD binding to the receptors.
- Contrary to serotonin, CBD activates the receptors,but does not trigger the negative reverse loop. Serotonergic system does not recognize CBD as “one of them” and reuptake of serotonin or cessation of production does not occur. Consequently, more serotonin stays in synapses due to CBD.
What About THC?
THC is one of the key cannabinoids in cannabis. It strongly binds to CB1 receptors (which are densely concentrated in our brain), which allows it to interact with many different brain functions. Among other functions, CB1 receptor is at least partly responsible for serotonin release in our brain.
The science of relationship between CB1 receptor and the release of serotonin is not yet completely clear. We understand the cause and effect, however not yet completely how it works. We understand that by consuming THC, it binds to CB1 receptors and starts to stimulate them. However, we do not completely understand what happens in between CB1 receptor triggering and the release of serotonin.
One of the possibilities is that once triggered, CB1 receptor tries to stop the deactivation compound, which messages the brain to “shut down” serotonin. Similarly, to how CBD copes with inflammation. As THC works as brain compounds antagonist, which are also antagonists of serotonin, cannabinoids such as THC can stimulate its production.
There is also an interesting study concluding that extreme cannabis users experienced decreased brain reactivity with dopamine. This means that due to very high doses of cannabis, too much serotonin and dopamine in the brain was released. This resulted in the need for more and more cannabis to achieve the same effect (the baseline levels increased).
OBSERVE OURSELVES AND CHOOSE WISELY
As we could see, serotonin affects every part of our body. It is responsible for many important body functions that help us every day. If its levels are not balanced it can affect our mental, physical, and emotional health. Furthermore, sometimes serotonin imbalance can mean something even more serious. It is important to observe our body and consult a doctor in case of worries. Cannabis will always have a special connection to the feelings of pleasure and happiness. To help with depression, anxiety, stress or even a short-term lift, cannabis can be the correct choice. Although much more research needs to be conducted, we understand the basic connection between cannabis and serotonin.