As medical marijuana becomes more widely accepted as an alternative for chronic pain management – treating everything from the nausea experienced with chemotherapy treatment to Crohn’s disease, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and nerve pain – researchers are studying cannabis compounds for other kinds of potentially beneficial medical treatments.

A study recently published by the Journal of Neuroscience, conducted by neuroscientists from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, suggests that endocannabinoids – chemical compounds naturally synthesized by the animal and human brain that work on the same receptors as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active component of Cannabis sativa – may be helpful in treating depression that results from chronic stress.

Researchers found that in studies on lab rats, chronic stress reduced the natural production of endocannabinoids, which are crucial to bioregulation and affect our metabolic system and insulin sensitivity, as well as cognition, emotion, and behavior. Recent research of the endocannabinoid system suggests that modulation of this regulatory system may be a cure for more chronic neurologic and immune conditions.

Chronic stress is a major risk factor in the development of depression, and this new research on the endocannabinoid system suggests that reduction of endocannabinoid production in the brain may play a role in this neuropsychological link.

The research team found that administering marijuana-derived cannabinoids to the rats to be an effective way to restore endocannabinoid levels in their brains, suggesting that marijuana-derived cannabinoids may in fact be a viable therapeutic treatment for stress-related depression symptoms.

“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression,” Haj-Dahmane stated in a press release from the University of Buffalo. “Using compounds derived from cannabis — marijuana — to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”

While Haj-Dahmane is careful to also note that the research is preliminary and so far has only been conducted in clinical trials on rats, the possibility of finding similar results in human trials is strong. As medical marijuana has already been reported to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in sufferers, and research on the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the brain’s trauma centers has supported these claims, the results of Haj-Dahmane’s research are promising.

The full study can be found here.