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Medical Marijuana & Anxiety: A Deep Dive into Receptor Modulators

Anxiety is a reaction to stress that can be beneficial in some situations, as it alerts us to dangers and helps us pay attention. Anxiety disorders differ from these normal feelings of nervousness. They are characterized by excessive fear or anticipation of future concerns, muscle tension, and avoidance behaviors. Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders--affecting nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. A frequently prescribed type of anti-anxiety medication is benzodiazepines. They manage the levels of a neurotransmitter called Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mature central nervous system; it contributes to motor control, vision, and many other cortical functions. Its principal role is reducing neuronal excitability. Unfortunately, patients who use benzodiazepines long-term are susceptible to developing a tolerance for the medication, which can result in dependence. Early studies discovered that the components in marijuana, especially cannabidiol (CBD), also manage the amount of GABA in your brain. Like benzodiazepines, cannabinoids are allosteric modulators. This group of substances binds to receptors in the brain to change that receptor’s response to stimulus. For example, CBD interacts with a receptor called GABA-A so that it enhances the receptor’s binding affinity for GABA. When CBD is taken alongside its sister cannabinoid Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the CB1 receptor [identified as a cannabinoid receptor nearly 15 years ago] has its ability to bind with THC weakened. The net effect is that CBD lowers the ceiling on the psychoactive properties of THC. Patients can then mitigate their anxiety without the THC “high” and without the dependence threat of a prescription drug.

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