Have you ever heard the saying, “happy wife, happy life?” What makes that wife happy? Is it the peacefulness of her family? A stable job? A loving partner? Or, a healthy endocannabinoid system? Could a well-functioning endocannabinoid system (ECS) be the key to our level of happiness? We have heard stories about endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome, but what, if anything, is the proof that this relates to happiness?
We are fortunate to have a tool to evaluate the ECS’ role in happiness: a clinical study from the pharmaceutical industry’s interest in altering this system. Pharma has been exploring the ECS’ role in appetite suppression and satiety since the first stoner ate Cheetos. One of the first prescription drugs approved in Europe to modulate the ECS was Rimonabant/Zimulti (Acomplia). This drug acts on the CB1 receptor as an antagonist—it blocks the activity of the targets such as anandamide; it was hypothesized that this would suppress appetite and be a useful weight reducing agent. While the drug was approved in Europe for weight loss, the FDA did not approve this drug for use in the US.
The U.S. clinical studies, however, revealed how the CB1 receptor is involved with a healthy view of the world. Studies demonstrated negative side effects of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts while patients were taking the drug. These documented adverse effects provide direct evidence that blockade of the CB1 receptor, one of the main components of the ECS, leads to depressed, anxious and troubled individuals. U.S. regulators believed the risks outweighed the benefits of modest weight loss seen in the study and blocked its approval.
So, we can see that the ECS has critical roles in happiness from clinical studies regarding blockage of this system, but what about evidence that phytocannabinoids like THC can enhance your happiness?
There was another study conducted with cannabis patients who maintained diaries of use and recorded quality of life measures including levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Results from this study show that modest consumption of cannabis improved the mental health of the patients and led to reductions in anxiety, depression and stress. It was some of the first concrete data proving cannabis consumption can improve well-being.
While data are lacking for the link between ECS deficiency and specific medical conditions, we can make the leap that happiness is linked with a healthy ECS. Think about the happiest people you know—are they always at the same level of happiness? Then think about the least happy people you know—are they also at about the same level of unhappiness? This is what is called a set point for happiness, which we all have. Now, think about your own level of happiness. Some days you may be exceedingly happy and other days not so much. However, for individuals with normotypic mental health, there isn’t much variation in happiness levels; a level 8 will always be a level 8 and a level 3 might always be a level 3 (unless you are a teenager and you can grow out of that funk). What might be the key to this set point for happiness is ECS function or lack thereof.
Hopefully, future studies will test this hypothesis to provide evidence about how support from cannabis and other mechanisms can improve mental health, so that we can all be in a happier place. One thing is for certain, supporting your ECS with a diet rich in healthy fats will benefit the building blocks of the ECS and keep your system in balance. Here’s wishing a happy ECS to you!