The last year has been a chaotic time, to say the least. The pandemic has amplified all the stressors of day-to-day life in unforeseen ways, and many people are looking for new ways to increase their overall happiness.
Since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp on a federal level, CBD has rapidly grown in popularity. The cannabinoid shows up in beauty products, daily wellness routines, and some are even taking CBD to lift their spirits. But does CBD make you happy? To answer that question, let’s first take a look at how CBD interacts with our brains.
How Does CBD Work in the Brain?
Our brains are essentially a system of cells called neurons connected by synapses. These neurons send messages to one another in the form of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Each neuron has several different neurotransmitter receptors that can only receive signals from specific neurotransmitters. Think of neurotransmitters like plugs and neurotransmitter receptors like sockets—only certain plugs will fit certain sockets.
Not only do these neurons respond to the neurotransmitters that our bodies naturally produce, like, for example, serotonin, they also respond to external chemical messengers that have been consumed, like CBD.
Cannabinoids are known for interacting with the neurons that make up our endocannabinoid systems, namely the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Interestingly though, CBD interacts with several other neurotransmitters in our brain, including dopamine receptors.
What Chemicals Make You Happy?
There are several different neurotransmitters that can influence our mood and make us feel happier. Some of the key ones are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and anandamide. Each of these chemicals in our nervous systems play a vital role in regulating our moods and creating feelings of joy and life satisfaction. Let’s call these the “happy brain chemicals.”
How to Increase Happy Brain Chemicals
Now that we’ve identified some of the chemicals responsible for or feelings of happiness let’s explore how to increase them.
Some of the simplest changes in your routine can have the most significant impact on your mood. For example, mindfulness and positive thinking have dramatic, therapeutic effects on your overall happiness.
Another effective way to increase your happy chemicals is to get some exercise. Studies show that working out for even as little as 10 minutes a day can make you feel more joyful. Observational studies suggest people who get even a little bit of exercise everyday report being happier than those who don’t. Plus, it’s good for your physical health as well.
Sunshine is often associated with cheerfulness and happiness. We even refer to people who are frequently merry as having a sunny disposition. Well, it turns out that exposure to sunlight may actually help raise serotonin levels. Get out there and soak up the sun, but make sure to put on some SPF since too much exposure to the sun’s rays could also lead to health risks such as melanoma.
These are just a few examples of tangible steps we can take to increase our happiness, but where does CBD fit in?
Does CBD Increase Happy Hormones?
Another way that we can increase the happy chemicals in our brain and body is through internal supplements or medicines.
The neurotransmitter anandamide gets its name from a Sanskrit word for bliss, a moniker it earns through its vital role in mood regulation. Anandamide is also what’s known as an endocannabinoid—a special type of neurotransmitter produced by our own bodies that bind to the same neurotransmitter receptors that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC do. In fact, evidence suggests that intaking CBD regularly can increase anandamide levels.
Because CBD doesn’t just bind to the typical CB1 and CB2 receptors, it can influence more than just the endocannabinoid system. CBD can bind to the serotonin 1A receptors and enhance them. So taking CBD won’t necessarily create more serotonin in your body, but it may make the serotonin you already have more effective and as a result make you feel good.
CBD and Brain Waves
Brainwaves are electrical impulses that take place inside the brain. Measured from slowest to fastest, the five types of brainwaves are:
When we’re sleeping, we produce more of the slower brain waves, and when we’re actively engaged in an activity or problem solving, we produce faster brain waves. Right in the middle of this spectrum are alpha brain waves, which are commonly associated with calmness and meditative states. Someone’s whose brain doesn’t produce very many alpha brain waves likely has trouble relaxing. Diminished alpha brain waves may also contribute to feelings of depression.
Research suggests that CBD may increase alpha brain waves, which could be another way that cannabinoid helps make us happy.