Photo: TRF_Mr_Hyde on Flickr
Promising research shows how to increase a chemical within us that counteracts fear.
Scientists from Duke University and the National Institute of Health studied an endocannabinoid chemical, called anandamide, that is secreted naturally in humans and causes bliss while reducing anxiety. The chemical works similarly to marijuana.
By blocking an enzyme called FAAH that breaks down this chemical, the researchers successfully reduced fear in mice and believe that the same thing could very well work for humans.
As the paper notes, the potential for curing anxiety and stress disorders is truly exciting:
Our mouse data suggest that, by preventing FAAH-mediated degradation, augmenting anandamide in the basolateral amygdala may boost on-demand recruitment of endocannabinoids to facilitate the extinction of traumatic fear memories. Further we report an association between a putative loss-of-function human FAAH gene variant, an amygdala fear-plasticity endophenotype, and reduced trait stress reactivity. The collective results of our study support the endocannabinoid system and FAAH as a key signaling mechanism regulating fear plasticity that is conserved across mouse and man. More generally, our approach illustrates the broad potential of focused translational research bridging animal models and human studies. Further work will be needed to test the possibility of targeting of endocannabinoids, via FAAH inhibition, as a novel approach to treating fear-related disorders.
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