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Circulating endocannabinoid concentrations in grieving adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2020 Oct;120:104801



Pubmed ID


Pubmed Central ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-85087803094   4 Citations


Bereavement is one of the most intense, distressing, and traumatic events an elderly person will experience. The symptom responses to bereavement vary, particularly during the first year. However, the neurobiology underlying the symptom variance in grief is poorly understood. The endocannabinoid signaling (ECS) system is stress-responsive; mounting evidence implicates the central ECS in psychopathology. The current study aimed to investigate the hypothesis that the ECS is abnormal in grief, using circulating eCB concentrations as a biomarker of central ECS. A predominantly older sample of grief participants, within 13 months following the death of a loved one, and healthy comparison (HC) participants were studied. Associations of circulating eCBs with symptom variance in grievers were also examined. A total of 61 (grief: n = 44; HC: n = 17) adults completed cross-sectional clinical assessments and a fasting blood draw. Assessments included the Inventory of Complicated Grief scale; the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale; and the Hamilton Anxiety scale. Serum eCB concentrations (i.e., N-arachidonoylethanolamine [AEA] and 2-arachidonoylglycerol [2-AG]) were quantified using isotope dilution, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Relative to HC participants, grievers had significantly elevated serum AEA but similar 2-AG concentrations. In grievers, serum AEA concentrations were positively associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms, but only in those with low grief symptoms. These novel findings indicate that elevated circulating eCB concentrations are found following bereavement. The eCB signaling response varies based on the degree of grief severity. Circulating eCB measures may have the potential to serve as biomarkers of prolonged grief disorder.

Author List

Harfmann EJ, McAuliffe TL, Larson ER, Claesges SA, Sauber G, Hillard CJ, Goveas JS


Joseph S. Goveas MD Professor in the Psychiatry department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Cecilia J. Hillard PhD Associate Dean, Center Director, Professor in the Pharmacology and Toxicology department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Eric Larson PhD Associate Professor in the Psychiatry department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Timothy L. McAuliffe PhD Professor in the Psychiatry department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Aged, 80 and over
Arachidonic Acids
Cross-Sectional Studies
Middle Aged
Polyunsaturated Alkamides