Scientists discover the reason why anxious people smoke marijuana
But despite its popularity as a salve for anxious brains, scientists don’t know how the chemicals in marijuana work to calm anxiety — but the discovery of a molecule that affects an anxiety-producing super-highway in the brain could hold the key.
In a study published this week in the journal Neuron , scientists describe a powerful molecule called 2-AG, which appears to disrupt the production and transfer of neurochemicals linked to anxiety across this neural highway — effectively halting an anxiety attack in its tracks. Cannabis works in much the same way, the researchers find. The new study, conducted in mice, shows 2-AG and cannabis act on the same receptors in the brain, the endocannabinoid system, which modulates anxiety.
The super-highway connects two parts of the brain: the amygdala, the brain’s emotional processor, and the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s decision-maker. When exposed to stress, the two areas glue together, producing excitatory neurochemicals and making anxiety skyrocket.
“The circuit between the amygdala and the frontal cortex has been shown to be stronger in individuals with certain types of anxiety disorders,” Sachin Patel , study co-author and researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says. “As people or animals are exposed to stress and get more anxious, these two brain areas glue together, and their activity grows stronger together.”