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Understanding the chemicals controlling your mood

17 May, 2017
Man in front of brain picture

How you feel day-to-day is caused by a lot of things. Maybe it started terribly because your coffee was burnt, or you're still flying from being complimented on your shoes. 

Underneath it all, chemicals and chemical reactions are taking place, influencing your mod and your overall mental wellness.

Glossary of terms

Neurotransmitter: specialised type of cell in your body that process and send electrical and chemical messages throughout the body.

Neuromodulator: are chemicals in the body that carry messages with instructions on what to do between neurons.

Peptide chemicals: are the nerves in the body act as the traffic lights for neurotransmitters.


What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, and according to some experts, a hormone as well. Surprisingly, 90% of serotonin can be found in our digestive tracts, with the rest residing in our brains.

Serotonin is made through a biochemical process that combines:

  • Tryptophan; and
  • Tryptophan hydroxylase; which forms
  • 5-hyrdoxyltryptamine (5-HT/Serotonin)

What does serotonin do?

This chemical plays a role in many important processes, like:

  • sleep regulation
  • cardiovascular and endocrine systems
  • bowel function
  • blood clotting
  • bone density, and
  • libido

How does serotonin affect my mood?

Experts differ on how they think serotonin affects our mood, particularly where depression is concerned. One hypothesis suggests that depression can be caused by a lack of brain cell regeneration, a process which might be mediated by serotonin.

While it seems men and women produce roughly the same amount of serotonin, it appears to affect the sexes differently. A depletion saw women’s mood decline and their cautious behaviour rise, while men were more likely to take on risky behaviour. This could account for the higher levels of depression we see in women.


What is an endocannabinoid?

We have a self-contained cannabis producing system in us called the endocannabinoid system. The cannaboids produced act as neuromodulators, affecting the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the system.

There are studies that claim that endocannabinoids play a part in producing the feeling of a runner’s high.

What does the endocannabinoid system do?

The endocannabinoid system:

  • Regulates the secretion of hormones
  • Regulates glucose metabolism in muscle cells
  • Controls energy homeostasis (the regulation of hunger and energy intake/outflow)
  • Modulates pain and inflammation

How does the endocannabinoid system affect my mood?

While the endocannabinoid system may not directly influence your mood, it’s involved with a lot of the processes that will impact on your mood. As en example, its role in your hunger response is what causes 'hangry'. Runner’s high, while not an easy thing to accomplish, will give you a similar feeling to being under the influence of marijuana.


What is adrenaline?

Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a hormone responsible for your ‘fight or flight’ response. It’s produced in the adrenal glands, the medulla and the central nervous system, ready to be released into the bloodstream in the event of a stressful situation.

What does adrenaline do?

Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, makes you sweat, and gets your senses maximally prepared for survival.

How does adrenaline affect mood?

There’s a reason for the existence of the term ‘adrenaline junkie’ – people like to feel the thrill of excitement and fear, even terror. For some, this is healthy behaviour, where the endeavour is to try something new and challenging. For others, this can be a destructive behaviour where the need to ‘feel’ something can drive them to take dangerous risks. There is a difference between parachuting and jumping out of the way of a speeding train.


What are endorphins?

The 'feel good’ chemical! Endorphins are peptide chemicals that are released by various parts of your body in reaction to stress, pain and fear. They’re also released during laughter, exercise and orgasm.

What do endorphins do?

The word ‘endorphin’ comes from ‘endogenous’ and ‘morphine’. As its heritage suggests, endorphins work to relieve pain and make you feel ‘positive’.

How do endorphins affect mood?

Endorphins and endorphin production are linked to both to the ‘fight or flight’ responses as well as ‘satisfaction’. Satisfaction is a reward you feel when completing a task, like making your bed or achieving a goal.


Further information and sources:


If you need support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit or call the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 224 636 or visit

If you’re a CBHS member with hospital or package cover, you might have access to our Mental Health Wellness program.

For more information on the program, contact CBHS’ Health and Wellness team on 02 9685 7567 or email at

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