Serotonin - Anxiety, Depression and Nerve regulation and how Candida, Ayahuasca and Marijuana may be related

I made an important discovery for myself last week.  I have have been getting off of an SSRI drug (paroxetine) that I had taken for anxiety. I was on a small dose (10mg) I had been weaning off of it for a few months, gradually, to lessen the effects of withdrawal. My doctor told me to do this and I also have read a lot of other people's experiences with this, in chat rooms etc. and how difficult it was getting off of these meds for many people. SSRI drugs, which are commonly prescribed for anxiety and depression, boost the levels of serotonin in the system.  Serotonin is our feel good chemical. However, it works on a lot more than just the brain. Serotonin regulates nerve activity throughout the body.  Here are just a few things it works to regulate:

Gastric rhythms (constipation, diarrhea)

Body Temperature (cold hands, feet)
Sleep Patterns
Affects memory and learning

As I was getting off of the paroxetine (paxil) I had been taking, I thought it would be a good idea to supplement with some natural alternatives. Just a few weeks before I had gotten a sample from the health food store of a supplement called Gabatrol. It said on the bottle, that it was for releasing tension and relaxing and it seemed to work well. I was familiar with most of the ingredients on the bottle. It had GABA, Taurine, L-theanine... and other common amino's for brain function.  It also had an herb I had never heard of called Kanna (Sceletium Tortuosum). I was curious, about Kanna and I also wanted to to research a little more before I started taking it. There wasn't much on the internet, but what I found was all positive. 

Kanna Articles:

It grows in South Africa (a succulent plant), and it's leaves are chewed and give a sense of wellbeing. Recent studies also suggested that it may have natural SSRI properties. It boosted the amount of serotonin in the system and had helped people in alleviating anxiety and depression. It all sounded good to me! So, I decided I also wanted to get some of the leaves themselves, not just take it as an additive to the Gabatrol. I found some on Bouncing Bear Botanicals and started taking it. Also, at the same time I had weened myself down to a quarter of a pill (of the 10mg size) of paroxetine (paxil) I had taken. Each time I had weened down I noticed some "darkness" for a few days. This "darkness" usually, came in the form of thoughts of anxiety, judgements about my life, failed relationships, financial struggles etc.. all the usual stressors for me. I had learned to just allow the thoughts to "be" to some extent, because I had encountered them so many times in my candida detox and while weening off of these drugs. I knew they would pass, so I tried not to take them too seriously, knowing that it was just the chemicals in my brain adjusting. Of course, even knowing all of that it is still hard to not take them as being "real" at times. So, I was also learning about some other natural supplements for boosting serotonin too. These included 5htp, L-tryptophan and St. John's Wort. As I weened off of the final bit of the paroxetine, I started taking 5htp, the Gabatrol, and adding in some of the Kanna. Each time I took the Kanna I felt great! I thought, "I'll stay on this regimen, for a while, certainly these natural supplements couldn't boost my serotonin higher than the prescription meds, could they?" Besides I figured more may be OK temporarily. Although, I had seen something about "serotonin syndrome", which is when there is too much serotonin in the body. I didn't think this could be a possibility since I had been on the lowest dose of paroxetine available. (There are prescribed doses at least 5 times as strong). I continued on this regimen for a couple more weeks feeling really good. I was also dedicated to getting back to my regular everyday yoga practice. So, I was also doing yoga everyday, followed by "toning" or "chanting" with Tibetan Bowls and then meditating for 30 minutes. For a few days I was feeling absolutely transcendent, relaxed and happy!! ...and then the "darkness" started to creep back in.  "Geez", I thought, "I am doing all of the right things here (supplements + yoga + meditation), where is this darkness, anxiety and depression coming from?.. I thought this was all long behind me!" I kept on for a few days, and fluctuated between the really happy moods and the darker moods. Gradually though, my moods started to become darker.  At the same time I started reading a book about all of the different brain chemicals, amino acids and how they affect our moods and thinking. (It's called "The Mood Cure", and I highly recommend it). From reading the book I could see that I had been low in serotonin probably long before my worst anxiety experience. I still couldn't understand why I would be feeling this darkness in my psyche. My mind started to explore more remote possibilities, "Had I sinned against the universe?", "Were the planets in some weird alignment?", "Was this Karma?". Then I remembered reading an article from just a few days earlier. My friend, Mara, had posted an article from Elle magazine about  people taking Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca, is a brew made in the Amazon and consists of a certain leaf and root, which is boiled and ingested. It creates a psychedelic trip, that helps many people work through life issues and ultimately experience greater peace and realization of their selves. Incidentally, although I had never done Ayahuasca, my most intense anxiety (and awakening) very closely resembled what I had read and seen about these Ayahuasca trips. As you may have noticed from reading this blog, I am also interested in the connection of our gut (digestive health) and the brain.

 A few of the quotes from a Dr. in the article caught my attention:

"Blood sampling of 13 longtime users (of Ayahuasca) and 10 controls found that users have elevated serotonin transporters in the brain for two to four weeks following ceremonies, which may indicate an increase in the neurotransmitter. Low levels of transporters are associated with alcoholism, depression, and anxiety disorders. “I find it fascinating that ayahuasca may actually reverse this long-term biochemistry, by affecting the brain’s bioplasticity,”

and also:

"Grob speculates that, in addition to acting on the central nervous system, the hallucinogen affects our so-called gut instincts—what some call our second, primal brain. “It seems to be activating neurological receptors in the gastrointestinal system, which is filled with serotonergic innervation, and may be involved with very deep and primal levels of consciousness.” 

For those of you, like me, who have no clue what "serotonergic innervation" means, let me tell you.  After a Google search I discovered that "Serotinergic Innervation" is when serotonin is used for activating nerve response in a certain area of the body. This happens in our digestive system. It also happens in our ears and could be the culprit in tinnitus (ringing in the ears)...something I experienced after heavy phases of candida detoxing.  It has also been indicated even in acid reflux (something I also experienced). I thought, "Hmmm.. seems like I am seeing a pattern. I have experienced, acid reflux, IBD like digestive issues, anxiety, cold hands and feet and more...and it looks like they are all related to serotonin levels."  I also though about the connection to candida and discovered that Candida, because it affects the intestines and digestion also inhibits serotonin. 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut.  Conversely, serotonin can ALSO fight fungal infections like Candida, and doctors are also using SSRI drugs to fight fungal infections. (This was all getting really interesting to me and I felt like I was starting to see a bigger picture).

Backtrack a bit, and remember I was also still feeling this "darkness" to some extent and it had inspired me to continue reading " The Mood Cure" book, which I found fascinating.  The author was talking about different nutritional sources of serotonin. Serotonin is synthesized by our bodies from the Amino Acid tryptophan. Nutritionally, tryptophan is found in high amounts in proteins. Turkey is famous for it's high amount of tryptophan, which leads to feeling really mellow after Thanksgiving dinner. It's also found in in other proteins. The author also mentioned that vegetarians can get it from nutritional yeast. As I read that I was thinking, "yahhh.. that sounds good", so I got up and decided to eat some "nootch" as I like to call it. Nuritional yeast also has high amounts of all the amino acids and other essential nutrients.  Nutritionally, it's a power house. I ate a few spoonfuls enjoying the nutty, cheezy flavors melting in my mouth. First, I felt good enjoying the flavors and felt a slight euphoria...which quickly began to turn. Suddenly, I was feeling uneasy. I felt nauseous, then I had to poop. My hands and feet were cold, and I started to shiver, my heart was starting to beat faster, my blood pressure felt like it was going higher, like my head would explode.  I was having a panic attack!! I hadn't felt like this in over two years!!! Shit!! Then I told myself to calm the fuck down and try to think rationally. I began to think about what I had just read about serotonin and nutritional yeast, and then about all of the serotonin boosting supplements I had been taking, and then I thought of the article on Ayahuasca and how they mentioned that probably one of the more dangerous possibilities was to experience "serotonin syndrome" which is essentially a serotonin overdose. So I Googled it. Lo and behold, there were many of the symptoms I was experiencing. So I tried to stay calm and ride it out. The only "cure" I saw for this syndrome, was to let the serotonin process through the body. So it would just take some time. (Incidentally, these are the same types of symptoms I had felt before from Marijuana induced panic attacks...Turns out marijuana affects the endocrine system too, via the pineal gland, which uses serotonin to produce, is it possible that this throws off the serotonin balance temporarily causing anxiety and paranoia?  well..anyway, more on that in a later post). Serotonin syndrome although it's caused by too much serotonin, also mimics the same symptoms of too little serotonin. So here I was experiencing these self induced symptoms from too much serotonin, and they were the same as the symptoms I can remember experiencing throughout my life, and especially in more stressful times.

Now, I really felt like I might be seeing a clearer picture of what might be a key in all of my previous issues with anxiety and digestive disorders. So I did a little experiment. I felt better the next day, not quite back to normal, but better. I supplemented with a little 5htp. Sure enough the panicked feelings started to come back, I took a walk tried to relax, then later I was overcome by depression and experienced many self loathing thoughts about myself and my life, and was even crying for while. These thoughts were REAL, but they were all caused by this chemical imbalance.

So, I quit taking everything. Over the next few days, I felt better and better. I cycled back through, some of the "brain lenses" or viewpoints of my own consciousness.  These weren't based on my circumstances, but they felt like it. These also felt like lenses that I had experienced at various times and phases in my life. Going through this process made it real to me how much my brain chemicals affect my mind. It also helped me to realize how much my mind affects my brain chemicals.  That my thoughts and perceptions about my life actually tell my body what chemicals to produce. Happiness comes from within, I think everybody intuitively knows that on some level and here I was getting to cycle through some of these "brain lenses" in just a couple of days. I think also in my times of unhappiness, whether it be from certain relationships, stress or career stress, I always wanted to change my circumstances, make more money etc.. when the truth is that would not change a thing about my chemical balance, if I didn't change my MIND and my thoughts first.  I knew this intuitively too, as I had succeeded on many levels in life, but it always failed to fill me up the way I expected and hoped.

So, as I thought about all of this I theorized that I had chronically low serotonin levels from, being stressed about my own ambitions, being unaware of the origins of my thoughts and from being around stressed out people (i.e negative energy, toxic relationships). I am not saying it was their fault either, it's hard to find a way out of the spiral of negative thoughts that can then affect our brain chemicals.  It's a feedback loop. It takes compassion and understanding to deal with and understand when it occurs in others. To be realistic  it can take a toll not only on the person experiencing the negativity directly, but also you. (Being aware of your own internal systems helps in not adopting this type of sympathetic stress...easier said than done.)

One of the other takeaways from this is that natural supplements can be extremely effective and in some cases too effective! And also that anyone taking any kind of brain chemical altering substance or drug should be aware of just how much they have the ability to change your moods and even thought patterns. (Tip: Give yourself time and space to experiment with the effects. Tell friends and family members what you are taking and how it might affect you.)  

Ultimately, there are many factors to finding the right balance. Things like: first returning to chemical balance, giving myself the nutritional support that works and last but certainly not least, learning to react and understand thought patterns and how they can affect the endocrine system. My body is listening to all of my thoughts and reacting at light speed. Thoughts occur at the level of memory and projection. While it (the thinking mind, ego) functions many times in the disguise of "increasing awareness" about your life or situation, the truth is that to be "thinking" is to be outside of the present moment. To be "aware" however is to be absent of thought, and it's in this space of awareness that I have noticed my body breathing a sigh of relief and beginning to find balance again. It's all important to notice and be aware of.

OK, this was a long post, but it has inspired me to write more on this... and how these things I am experiencing so far, affect our endocrine system and consciousness, the chakras, and overall balance.   

Some other links related to this post:

Illegal Drugs Ayahuasca - What is Ayahuasca? - ELLE

Serotonergic Dysfunction in Parkinson's Disease and Its Relevance to Disability 

Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors for the treatment of hypersensitive esophagus

Is GERD an autoimmune disease? SEROTONiN

How chocolate can trigger heartburn- Serotonin

Anxiety Disorder Causes | Serotonin Candida

ITJ - The International Tinnitus Journal - Serotonergic Innervation of the Inner Ear: Is It Involved in the General Physiological Control of the Auditory Receptor?

The Brain Gut Connection and the Role of Serotonin

For sound downloads click here.
Just a personal note: There is nothing new under the sun. I am just attempting to present info. here that has helped me. I hope to present it in a clear way based on my experience with anxiety which was a spiritual, psychological and emotional awakening for me. In retrospect of this experience I have been reading as much as I could to come to a deeper and more grounded understanding of this seemingly mystical thing that happened to me (so that I could share it with you). I'm not a doctor or a scientist. Please know this is only my experience. Yours will obviously be different, but since my experience was so similar to others I've talked to, I am hoping this may be helpful or useful to you in some way. It's also a way that I hope to share the love with you. That is my purpose here.

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