OBJECTIVE: Endocannabinoids have been implicated in the pathophysiology of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and might represent potential targets for therapeutic intervention. Objectives of the study were: (1) to measure plasma levels of endocannabinoids in a group of antidepressant-free depressed outpatients; (2) to explore their relationship with the severity of depressive symptoms as subjectively perceived by the patients; and (3) to investigate the effect of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor escitalopram on endocannabinoid levels.
METHODS: We measured plasma levels of the two major endocannabinoids, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and N-arachidonoylethanolamine (anadamide), in 12 drug-free outpatients diagnosed with MDD and in 12 matched healthy controls. In the patient group, endocannabinoids plasma levels were assessed at baseline and after 2 months of treatment with escitalopram.
RESULTS: Baseline plasma levels of the two endocannabinoids did not differ between depressed patients and healthy controls. However, there was a significant inverse correlation between 2-arachidonoylglycerol levels and the severity of subjectively perceived depressive symptoms. Treatment with escitalopram did not change endocannabinoid levels in depressed patients, although it caused the expected improvement of depressive symptoms.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that 2-arachidonylglycerol, the most abundant endocannabinoid in the central nervous system, might act to mitigate depressive symptoms, and raise the interesting possibility that 2-arachidonylglycerol and anandamide are differentially regulated in patients affected by MDD. Also, our data suggest but do not prove that the endocannabinoid system is not regulated by serotonergic transmission, at least in depressed patients.