– This section will be the only neuroscience part of this blog. Feel free to skip. –
“Cognitive Mediational Models of Emotion” is a psychological term which refers to the cognitive network that initiates emotional states. Basically, a person cannot be sad without a network of thoughts that are “sadness.” Additionally, there can be different types of sadness based on different connections in a network of thoughts.
A cognitive network, or neural network, is made up of synapses which connect thoughts to one another and form thought patterns. These thought synapses/connections are the blueprint of a person’s potential thought motifs, and they form the neural network. One can think of these connections in a cognitive network like nodes in a computer network—in fact, this is how neuroscientists conceptualize them. For example, the idea of a “horse” might be connected to Texas, hay, or a certain memory, all completely unique to the individual.
When a concept is activated within a neural network there is an automatic spread of activation that a person’s experience is then filtered through. For example, if my mom calls, I might then start thinking about my brother or mermaids (my mom is obsessed with mermaids) consciously or unconsciously —these concepts are connected in my neural networks to my mom—they are the nodes in that network. After talking with her, I might start hearing my brother’s name or seeing mermaids everywhere because of the neural network that has been activated in my brain. This is also the reason why when a person is sad, everything around seems gloomy or why when a person is happy, everything around seems to be bright.
Further, this is why it can be incredibly hard to escape negative thought patterns in adulthood. The cognitive network that connects thoughts has been mapped out, organized, and activated time and time again to where thinking becomes an automatic impulse, and thoughts are basically the physical reflexes of the brain. To compare, if I have learned over years how to play basketball, then I have formed automatic physical reflexes when I play. If I wanted to learn how to play in a totally new way, it is going to take a significant amount of time to unlearn old physical patterns. To unlearn, I will have to practice using alternative reflexes in replacement (that will eventually become automatic). This process is made much more difficult when it is taken out of the physical realm and put into the ethereal realm of thoughts.
Knowing how thoughts work allows us freedom. We realize that our thought patterns can leave us stuck inside a cognitive map. If we want to break free of negative thought patterns? Or depression? We must question our neural networks, our cognitive maps, and our emotional assumptions at their most rudimentary levels and create new connections and patterns with perseverance and consistency.
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Questioning our Psychological Maps
Depression has many different models, but we are going to dive into learned helplessness and a depressive attributional style.
● Learned Helplessness
○ The psychologist Seligman had the idea that if a person learns that outcomes are not contingent upon their actions, then that person is going to slide into learned helplessness. They come to believe that no amount of effort will ever matter in achieving a goal. The individual then does not try as hard, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here we have created depression.
● Beck’s Depressive Attributional Style
○ Depressive (cognitive) schemas [or cognitive maps] are the automatic thoughts that present themselves in the mind either consciously or unconsciously.
○ This depressive schema is essentially a negative triad of beliefs about:
■ The Self
■ Others/The World
■ The Future
○ What this boils down to is, whether a person realizes it or not, when they are confronted with an opportunity, this individual has a negative, organized set of beliefs about the self that is sitting inside the brain. For example, if someone was presented with a job opportunity and they were being interviewed by someone of the opposite sex, they may think: I could never do that job because I am not a talented teacher (negative belief about the self). Also, it is not like this man is ever going to hire a woman (negative belief about others/the world). It’s always going to be like this and I’ll never catch a break (negative belief about the future; generalizing this instance to forever).
○ The above situation is ultimately extremely disempowering, disheartening, and self-sabotaging.
The endocannabinoid system is one of the most primal systems of the body. The human body actually has more CB receptors than any other type of receptor and that is why this system is essentially the baseline, influencing every other system of the body. UCLA Health reports, “Taxonomic investigation revealed that the endocannabinoid system is incredibly old, having evolved over 500 million years ago. Moreover, it is present in all vertebrates—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc., all produce endocannabinoids!”
Depression is not something to be scared of or ashamed of. It is a normal part of the self-actualizing process. To grow as a person, the dirt is inevitable, and for a lot of us, depression is that dirt. From the dirt we are forced to release actions and thought patterns (ideas of the self) that are not working. For example, many hold onto an image that they had of themselves at 16. While this might have served that person at 16, at 32 it is time to let go and create something new. In the dirt we ground ourselves, and we are able to create a sense of self that is authentic to us in the present moment.
Distancing the self from automatic thoughts/schemas is a great way to overcome negative beliefs. While at first the negative thoughts are likely to come so fast that one has no idea they are even there, after a while, one will consciously recognize them. Furthermore, instead of treating a negative thought as true, one can treat it as a hypothesis and question its validity.
Problem: It can be hard to question one’s own thoughts, especially if a well-organized set of negative beliefs exists.
In this case, it can be helpful to treat the self as one treats a friend. Thinking of our own actions as if they were done by a friend or a loved one is a great way to see the self from a less biased point of view. Eventually, through questioning one’s own thoughts and rewriting them enough, one inhibits the negative schema by replacing it with a more positive one. Basically, by correcting the thoughts as they come up and replacing them with more positive ones, eventually, through consistency, a new schema will form. This is why practices such as showing gratitude are so powerful. They inhibit the negative thoughts and, with consistency, foster new thought patterns to create a more positive world from one’s perspective.
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And Why is the Endocannabinoid System Relevant to Any of This?
Emotional states are essentially results of tangible, physical manifestations in the brain. This means that to change a person’s emotions is to change a person’s physiology.
For example, a tool to lessen the symptoms of depression for many people is physical fitness. Do you know what is produced as a result of working out? Or yoga? Or even meditation? Endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the regulating, anti-stress molecules of human physiology. Their purpose is to alleviate stress for both the body and the mind.
In the modern day, many people are depleted of endocannabinoids and this is a big part of our current state of health. Stress is what depletes the cannabinoids; they are used to calm stress and get used up in the process. Stress is quite characteristic of the modern world, and, consequently, a dysregulated endocannabinoid system is seen as a factor in many modern diseases, as the FDA presentation below states:
Courtesy of FDA lecture May 31, 2019 https://www.fda.gov/media/128479/download
by Lucille Vega, MD – Studies by Ethan Russo, MD
How can this one system in dysregulation be implicated in so many various diseases? The endocannabinoid system is active in nearly every process of the body—there are more cannabinoid receptors than any other type of receptors in the body and this is the system that maintains the body’s homeostasis. When the body is out of homeostasis and has too much or too little inflammation/activity/stress, disease forms of both mental and physical natures. Maintaining a healthy body is vital to maintaining a healthy mind. Without proper endocannabinoid signaling the brain, the entire mind and body can be thrown out of balance. This brings us to CBD, which can replete the endocannabinoid system because it stops FAAH, an enzyme that breaks endocannabinoids down, and activates the CB receptors so that they can send the signals needed to calm the body down.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we will not be able to keep the mind strong and clear.”—The Buddha
If you haven’t read the blog from last week on the physiology of depression and how that is related to the endocannabinoid system, I implore you to check out some seriously cool science and research.
What CBD could do for you may surprise you. The funny thing about this medicine is that nobody ever really knows exactly what it will do, because it will go where the body needs it most. The body’s intuition is in control. Check out our dosages calculator to get your individualized cannabinoid dose suggestion or our product finder to see which of our top-quality products are right for you. Thank you for reading and wishing you health in mind and body.
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An Article By Evie Louise
Evie Louise is a recent psychology graduate from New York University. She is a certified in International Cannabinoid Clinical Therapy. Evie sees all forms of the cannabis sativa plant as the future of psychiatry, and hopes to use it in her therapy practice as a full spectrum approach to mental health and wellness.