Exploiting the Multifaceted Effects of Cannabinoids on Mood to Boost Their Therapeutic Use Against Anxiety and Depression

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been recently recognized as a prominent promoter of the emotional homeostasis, mediating the effects of different environmental signals including rewarding and stressing stimuli. The ECS modulates the rewarding effects of environmental stimuli, influencing synaptic transmission in the dopaminergic projections to the limbic system, and mediates the neurophysiological and behavioral consequences of stress. Notably, the individual psychosocial context is another key element modulating the activity of the ECS. Finally, inflammation represents an additional factor that could alter the cannabinoid signaling in the CNS inducing a “sickness behavior,” characterized by anxiety, anhedonia, and depressive symptoms. The complex influences of the ECS on both the environmental and internal stimuli processing, make the cannabinoid-based drugs an appealing option to treat different psychiatric conditions. Although ample experimental evidence shows beneficial effects of ECS modulation on mood, scarce clinical indication limits the use of cannabis-based treatments. To better define the possible clinical indications of cannabinoid-based drugs in psychiatry, a number of issues should be better addressed, including genetic variability and psychosocial factors possibly affecting the individual response. In particular, better knowledge of the multifaceted effects of cannabinoids could help to understand how to boost their therapeutic use in anxiety and depression treatment.

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