Experts find novel ways to tap the anxiolytic effects of endocannabinoids

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in marijuana and produced naturally in the body from omega-3 fatty acids. Interestingly, one of well-known cannabinoids in marijuana known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anxiolytic effects in clinical use, but is responsible for triggering a range of euphoric effects and other adverse side effects.

The naturally produced cannabinoids in the human body from omega-3 fatty acids work by activating the specific cannabinoid receptors whereby anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anxiolytic effects are triggered.

The natural cannabinoids are referred to as endocannabinoids and in contrast to THC, there are no risks of overdose or side effects as the cells in the body produce only the amount required. Therefore, endocannabinoid system is being widely considered as extremely promising due to its therapeutic benefits.

Given the anxiolytic effects of endocannabinoids, a number of experts have been exploring the possibility of selectively activating endocannabinoids in the brain to treat psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety. By testing the novel ways to activate the endocannabinoids and achieve the above-mentioned effects in mice, a new study has discovered an innovative way to alleviate neuropsychiatric disorders.

Selective activation of endocannabinoids effectively alleviates neuropsychiatric disorders

The study conducted by the researchers from the University of Bern is the result of many years of research by the team led by Jürg Gertsch from the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bern. The findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

With the active participation of chemists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the research team succeeded in blocking the transport route of endocannabinoids in the brain of mice for the first time with the help of innovatively developed inhibitors. The researchers were inspired to synthesize the inhibitors from a natural substance derived from the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), a medicinal plant frequently used as a home remedy for colds and is known to partially influence the endocannabinoid system. In this way, hundreds of endocannabinoid transport inhibitors were synthesized to develop ideal pharmacological properties.

These newly developed inhibitors by blocking the uptake of endocannabinoids through the cell membranes activated the cannabinoid receptors on nerve and immune cells. This halts any kind of stress and inflammatory disorders in the brain and immune system and restores the physiological equilibrium. This resulted in positive effects on the stress behaviour and immune system of mice along with the activation of anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anxiolytic effects.

The researchers see high potential for the use of endocannabinoids in regulating stress hormones and restoring the equilibrium in the brain. Gertsch further corroborates the role of endocannabinoids in the field of stress-related disorders, “I am convinced that in addition to the administration of exogenous cannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system will be specifically activated for therapeutic purposes in the future.”

Anxiety disorders are disabling, but treatable

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for a group of mental illnesses comprising panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other specific phobias. Such disorders are responsible for causing overwhelming distress among people by affecting their daily life and relationships. It can negatively affect the quality of life and inflict other grave consequences on both mental and physical health.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 18.1 percent of the adult population in the United States suffers from some form of anxiety disorder every year that interferes with every aspect of their life.

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