Anandamide: Forget About Dope to Better Understand PTSD

Clementine Kruczynski: “This is it, Joel. I’m going to be gone soon. What do we do?”

Joel Barish: “Enjoy it.”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004

Are memories something we should indiscriminately preserve? They’re the building blocks that make us who we are after all. Behavior, good or bad, is learned. Mitigating selfish characteristics has taken years of trial and error. Therefore, it’d be irresponsible to rid ourselves of these traits. What about the memories we don’t need, though? Obfuscating certain memories certainly has therapeutic effects for those with trauma, specifically people with post traumatic stress disorder.

Forgetting is not a bad adaptation, if you think about it. Your brain absorbs around 34 gigabytes every single day; stretching this allowance into a week would eventually give your laptop the blue screen of death. Modern pharmaceuticals cannot accurately target and diffuse these connections in our brain, like they do in Sci-Fi. Serotonergic antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac are standard band-aid solutions prescribed by doctors. Drugs like these can cause severe insomnia, nausea, and a decreased sex drive, effects far removed from the life-balancing properties of cannabis.

In 2009, New Mexico became the first state to authorize cannabis research on PTSD. A study conducted from 2009–2011 on 80 U.S. veterans saw a 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms. Unfortunately, this study was done from an entirely psychiatric approach. Patients weren’t reinforced with psychological support, a standard feature in most PTSD therapy. Understanding the neurological relationship with our endo-cannabinoid receptors will only provide us better methods that we can reinforce with psychologically assisted treatment.

Research on tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoids has been heavily mitigated by federal prohibition for decades. We have only just begun to understand how our endocannabinoid system works. For example, people have always assumed, and still do, that THC mimics dopamine. The term ‘dope’ is derogatory in and of itself, because it’s also used as a descriptor for harder substances like heroine.

Tetrahydrocannabinol actually mimics a very underrated chemical produced by the brain called anandamide. In ancient Sanskrit, anandamide translates to “bliss.” This makes sense when you consider the stuff is also found in chocolate.

Anandamide primarily behaves as a neurotransmitter, sending messages between your axons and dendrites like a conveyor belt in a busy mailroom. CB1 endocannabinoid receptors, which are responsible for euphoria, bind with anandamide—resulting in the biochemical equivalent of watching kittens roll around in a box of packing peanuts. This relationship between mediator and facilitator is what stimulates mood, appetite, and memory. As far as PTSD goes, the bliss molecule just might hold the key to treating symptoms more effectively.

Researchers in 2013 studied 60 people diagnosed with PTSD and found decreased levels of anandamide in conjunction with a higher CB1 presence, a natural reaction exhibited by our brain when we experience anandamide deficits. Cortisol, the stress chemical, inhibits anandamide production—further supporting the idea that cannabis can give a nice boost to those anandamide-craving CB1 receptors.

So call it what you want to call it: grass, flower, pot, devil’s lettuce, jazz cigarette—just stop calling it dope. Dope evokes the usual superficial characteristics of incompetence, apathy, and general lack of urgency. If used supplementally in concert with therapy, cannabis could help make room for more permanent solutions to PTSD suffering. There’s nothing wrong about wanting to compartmentalize painful memories with something that’s both safe and effective.

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