Studying possible connections between marijuana and feeling lonely and depressed may not be something you expect from scientists in Iran, but that’s pretty much what’s going on. What’s more, they have published some intriguing work with results worth a look.
Humans are social animals. Lack of social connection affects us deeply. Sleep patterns, attention and reasoning are all impacted by loneliness or feelings of temporary seclusion. On the more extreme side, isolation is complete or nearly complete lack of connection and interaction.
For decades, healthcare professionals have recognized that social isolation leads to greater incidence of disease and death. Being separated from “the pack” has the potential to alter brain chemistry, make some autoimmune diseases worse and enhances susceptibility to seizures. Other studies have shown that not only does social isolation stress lead to symptoms such as depressive-like behavior, it even alters the genes that affect neuroplasticity or how the brain learns and adapts. We are reminded of the debilitating combination of these effects by those who advocate for an end of prisoner isolation in the criminal justice system.
Social isolation stress, SIS, is a condition that researchers impose on lab animals. Social animals, like mice in this case, are separated from their peers. They are effectively placed in solitary long enough to exhibit symptoms of loneliness so severe it affects their observable behavior and ability to complete simple task tests.
In this study, the researcher chemically activated both main types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors are responsible for helping receive innate and phytocannabinoids like those found in marijuana. When the receptors were activated it reduced the symptoms of depression in the mice. Inversely, when researchers chemically inhibited the receptors, depressive like symptoms were increased.
Researchers determined that, “activation of cannabinoid receptors (type 1 and 2) could mitigate depression-like behavior induced by SIS in a mouse model.” While mice outcomes do not always infer the same truth for humans, the fact that we share the large majority of active DNA with them is not lost on scientists and investors. Considering that several popular anti-depressant medicines have serious side effects including suicidal thoughts, possible application of cannabis could be very promising.
The lonely pot smoker was a popular figure in past anti drug ads. How ironic if, for some people, using cannabis could one day be seen as an option to combat the “chemistry of isolation”.