Tag Archives: NEUROSCIENCE

Long-Term Marijuana Use Changes Brain at the Cellular Level, Say Scientists

The team behind the study hopes that their findings can eventually be used to treat people with cannabis use disorder, defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 as a “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

By Yasmin Tayagon October 16, 2017

Filed Under Alcohol, Drugs, Neuroscience & Sex

In March, long-term marijuana smoker Woody Harrelson surprised fans by announcing he was giving up his chronic pot habit, saying it made him “emotionally unavailable.” Likewise, in June, notorious stoner Miley Cyrus did the same, saying she “wanted to be really clear” while making her new album. Long-term pot smokers who have quit cite similar anecdotal evidence about the chronic effects of weed, but scientists have only recently begun understanding what, if anything, it actually does to the brain.

In a study on mice published Monday in the journal JNeurosci, scientists report that long-term marijuana use does indeed change the brain.

In their study, the researchers from Brigham Young University’s neuroscience department, led by Jeffrey Edwards Ph.D., focused on the brain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA), a region rich with the dopamine and serotonin receptors that comprise the brain’s reward system, looking at how its cells changed as the teen mice they studied received daily THC injections every day for a week. Researchers know that drugs of abuse, like opioids, alcohol, and marijuana, act on the VTA, and it’s thought that the active ingredients in these drugs stimulate the release of dopamine in this area, thereby triggering the flood of pleasure that drugs (as well as friendship and sex) provide — and creating cravings for more.

In particular, they looked at a type of cell in the VTA known as a GABA cell that marijuana researchers hadn’t looked at before. The cells are named for the type of neurotransmitter they pick up — GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid — which is well-known for its inhibitory properties. Imagine GABA as the high-strung friend who becomes anxious when the rest of the group has too much fun. When GABA is released in the brain, it regulates the levels of happy-making dopamine, making sure revelry doesn’t go overboard.In particular, they looked at a type of cell in the VTA known as a GABA cell that marijuana researchers hadn’t looked at before. The cells are named for the type of neurotransmitter they pick up — GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid — which is well-known for its inhibitory properties. Imagine GABA as the high-strung friend who becomes anxious when the rest of the group has too much fun. When GABA is released in the brain, it regulates the levels of happy-making dopamine, making sure revelry doesn’t go overboard.

This friend is a bit of a buzzkill but seems to be necessary to prevent the brain from having too much of a good thing. But, as it turns out, GABA neurons can be incapacitated, too.This friend is a bit of a buzzkill but seems to be necessary to prevent the brain from having too much of a good thing. But, as it turns out, GABA neurons can be incapacitated, too.

As the researchers observed these cells in teen mice over their THC-filled week, they saw that the ability of the GABA neurons to regulate dopamine faltered as the trial went on. In contrast, mice who only received a single injection of THC — the Bill Clintons of the group — didn’t show any changes in their GABA neurons, suggesting that the effects seen in the chronic users are a consequence of long-term marijuana use. Those changes led dopamine to linger in the VTA longer than usual, which caused an abnormally drawn-out feeling of reward. And too much of those pleasurable feelings, scientists have found, is what leads to addiction.

The team behind the study hopes that their findings can eventually be used to treat people with cannabis use disorder, defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 as a “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

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Historic Federal Summit on Medicine Marijuana Is Slanted By Drug War Agenda

Legalization Nation

 

By David Downs

 

A seemingly historic medical marijuana summit by several US government health agencies will largely exclude evidence coming from the states that have legalized medical cannabis — another example of entrenched Washington, DC bureaucrats placing politics over science in the marijuana debate.

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    The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and four other NIH institutes and centers is holding the “Marijuana and Cannabinoids: A Neuroscience Research Summit” today and tomorrow in Bethesda, Maryland.

    “The overarching goal is to present current basic research and evidence-based information to identify research gaps to ultimately inform science, practice, and policy,” an NCCIH release states.
    But the presence of at least one co-sponsor, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ensures that the summit will be less about healing and more about Reefer Madness. NIDA’s official mission is to fund studies to find harms in cannabis — not any benefit. The summit will not include leading doctors who treat patients with medical marijuana, or patients themselves.
    Instead, NIDA’s director, Dr. Nora Volkow is opening and closing the summit, which will showcase NIDA’s most recent research efforts to show marijuana harms the brain, brain development, and function. The White House Drug Czar will weigh in after lunch, followed by talks on pot and psychosis, pot addiction, and combining pot with alcohol.

     

    [You can watch the NIH Marijuana Summit online here.]


    Only at the end of the day will speakers address the ability of cannabis to treat epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. A marijuana-derived drug reduced seizures by 40 percent in kids with untreatable epilepsy, clinical trials revealed last week.

    Tomorrow, NIDA will relay its latest on pot and driving in the morning. Talks on cannabis’ potential for use on pain and anxiety precede discussions about potential negative health effects of legalization.
    States with medical marijuana laws have 25 percent less opioid overdoses than states without cannabis access, a study published in JAMA showed.
    In February, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachussetts, asked the CDC to consider legalizing pot to stem the opioid overdose epidemic.
    The summit is a missed opportunity, said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, affiliated faculty of the MultiCare Institute of Research and Innovation. Aggarwal just spent a year as a clinical fellow at the NIH intramural campus, and wrote us that “there is a strong bureaucratic taboo in discussing any of the reemerging science or art of cannabis medicine.”
    “This conference does break down some of that taboo, but performs a great disservice to the American people by excluding in the core agenda medical and scientific speakers who can describe health lessons learned from the two dozen medical cannabis state level programs in the United States,” he wrote.

    Millions of patients have been treated by botanical cannabis, Aggarwal notes. One in twenty California adults have reported using medical cannabis for a serious condition and 92 percent of them believe pot worked, researchers report.

    “This belies the strong phamaceuticalized cannabis slant of this conference, despite its co-sponsorship by the National Center on Complementary and Integrative Health, which ought to be studying cannabis and cannabinoid integrative health and medicine, not ignoring it,” Aggarwal wrote.
    The doctor who wrote the textbook on cannabis in Integrative Oncology, Donald Abrams of San Francisco, is also not part of the summit. Neither is leading researcher on using marijuana to treat PTSD — Dr. Sue Sisley.

    According to the National Cancer Institute, cannabis users have a 45 percent decrease in the likelihood of bladder cancer compared to non-users.
    The journal Epidemiology reported cannabis users had 30 percent less likelihood of diabetes compared to non-users in studies.

    The American Epilepsy Society reported a 47 percent drop in pediatric epileptic seizures during clinical trials of cannabis extract Epidiolex, and 9 percent of kids in the study became seizure-free.
    Cannabis is ranked number one on the US government list of the most dangerous drugs. Researchers report facing more hurdles to studying botanical cannabis than any other drug.
    Prescription opioids are far less controlled. The number of overdose deaths from cannabis in recorded history is zero, while the number of overdose deaths from opioids in 2014 in the United States totaled 28,647. Doctors wrote 259 million opioid pain medication prescriptions in 2012. About 100 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.

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    I Went From Selling Drugs to Studying Them — And Found That Most of What We Assume About Drugs Is Wrong

    A scientist with a rough past explains how he used his life experiences to blow the lid off modern drug research.

    June 19, 2013 |  

    This is the prologue to Columbia University researcher Dr. Carl Hart’s explosive new book, " High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journal of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Psychology."  Read a Q&A with the author here.

    The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.

    —James Baldwin

    The straight glass pipe filled with ethereal white smoke. It was thick enough to see that it could be a good hit, but it still had the wispy quality that distinguishes crack cocaine smoke from cigarette or marijuana smoke. The smoker was thirty-nine, a black man, who worked as a street bookseller. He closed his eyes and lay back in the battered leather office chair, holding his breath to keep the drug in his lungs as long as possible. Eventually, he exhaled, a serene smile on his face, his eyes closed to savor the bliss.

    About fifteen minutes later, the computer signaled that another hit was available.

    “No, thanks, doc,” he said, raising his left hand slightly. He hit the space bar on the Mac in the way that he’d been trained to press to signal his choice.

    Although I couldn’t know for sure whether he was getting cocaine or placebo, I knew the experiment was going well. Here was a middle-aged brother, someone most people would label a “crackhead,” a guy who smoked rock at least four to five times a week, just saying no to a legal hit of what had a good chance of being 100 percent pure pharmaceutical-grade cocaine. In the movie version, he would have been demanding more within seconds of his first hit, bug-eyed and threatening—or pleading and desperate.

    Nonetheless, he’d just calmly turned it down because he preferred to receive five dollars in cash instead. He’d sampled the dose of cocaine earlier in the session: he knew what he would get for his money. At five dollars for what I later learned was a low dose of real crack cocaine, he preferred the cash.

    Meanwhile, there I was, another black man, raised in one of the roughest neighborhoods of Miami, who might just as easily have wound up selling cocaine on the street. Instead, I was wearing a white lab coat and being funded by grants from the federal government to provide cocaine as part of my research into understanding the real effects of drugs on behavior and physiology. The year was 1999.

    In this particular experiment, I was trying to understand how crack cocaine users would respond when presented with a choice between the drug and an “alternative reinforcer”—or another type of reward, in this case, cash money. Would anything else seem valuable to them? In a calm, laboratory setting, where the participants lived in a locked ward and had a chance to earn more than they usually could on the street, would they take every dose of crack, even small ones, or would they be selective about getting high? Would merchandise vouchers be as effective as cash in altering their behavior? What would affect their choices?

    Before I’d become a researcher, these weren’t even questions that I would think to ask. These were drug addicts, I would have said. No matter what, they’d do anything to get to take as much drugs as often as possible. I thought of them in the disparaging ways I’d seen them depicted in films like New Jack City and Jungle Fever and in songs like Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads.” I’d seen some of my cousins become shells of their former selves and had blamed crack cocaine. Back then I believed that drug users could never make rational choices, especially about their drug use, because their brains had been altered or damaged by drugs.

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