Does THC increase serotonin in the brain?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a messenger between nerve cells throughout the body. It is sometimes called the “happiness hormone” because it is responsible for our feelings of joy and regulates our mood, appetite, and sleep.
THC is the most well-known cannabinoid, responsible for many health benefits of marijuana as well as the psychoactive effects. THC is just one out of hundreds of cannabinoids that work together with terpenes to create the overall effect of a cannabis strain.
The endocannabinoid system has receptors all over our brain, organs, glands, tissues, and immune cells. Our bodies have naturally occurring endocannabinoids that bind to these receptors, like anandamide, or the bliss molecule. A deficit in endocannabinoids may contribute to anxiety and depression. Inadequate endocannabinoid control may produce, activity, as observed in depression. When we consume marijuana, the THC, CBD, and cannabinoid molecules bind to these receptors, and that’s how we feel the effects. THC binds to the CB1 receptor, which is expressed in the central nervous system (CNS), where serotonin acts as a messenger.
A 2011 study published in Neuropharmacology explored the connection between the effects of endocannabinoids and the regulation of serotonin. They discovered an essential link between the CB1 receptors and the serotonin system. Endocannabinoids can modulate the release of serotonin, which means that THC probably can too.
Many prescription antidepressants work by making more serotonin available in the brain. So it makes sense to assume that the euphoric high from THC comes from a release of serotonin, but the interaction of cannabis with our body is more complex. A 2007 study on animals at McGill University found that low doses of cannabis increase serotonin but that higher doses cause a significant drop in serotonin levels.
Another 2015 study on animals found that some of the adverse effects of THC could be avoided by blocking a serotonin receptor, while other beneficial effects were still seen. All these studies show what seems to be a strong connection between THC and serotonin, but the details won’t be clear until much more research is done.
If you are specifically looking to increase your serotonin, here are a few recommended ways you can increase your serotonin without any marijuana or prescription drugs:
- Bright sunlight. Go for a walk outside in the sunshine or spend some time outdoors in the sun. There is a direct correlation between bright light and the serotonin system.
- Exercise. Any comfortable exercise for you that gets your heart pumping could improve your mood during and after your workout.
- Diet. Combining tryptophan-rich foods with complex carbs like whole-wheat bread with turkey or cheese, oatmeal with nuts, salmon and rice, pineapple and crackers, etc.
- Massage therapy.
- Vitamins and Herbs. Supplements like 5-HTP, St. John’s wort, or probiotics.