Scientists separate medicinal benefits of marijuana from hallucinogenic effects

 marijuana plant

EAST ANGLIA, England, Monday July 13, 2015 – A new scientific breakthrough has enabled scientists to separate the medical benefits of marijuana from its unwanted side effects.

It is hoped that the development will pave the way for safe cannabis-based therapies that do not cause alterations in mood, perception or memory.

The research was carried out by the team that discovered how the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, THC, reduces tumour growth in cancer patients.

The team’s latest findings show how the cognitive effects of THC, such as memory loss and anxiety, are triggered by a pathway in the brain which is separate from some of its beneficial effects, including pain relief. When the pathway is blocked, THC can exert several positive effects while avoiding memory impairment.

Scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia (UEA), in collaboration with a team at Spain’s University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, conducted the research in mice.

According to Dr. Peter McCormick, of UEA’s School of Pharmacy, THC has broad medical uses, including the relief of pain, nausea and anxiety, as well as the reduction of tumour size in cancer patients.

“However, it is also known to induce numerous undesirable side effects such as memory impairment, anxiety and dependence,” Dr McCormick noted.

peter mccormick

Dr. Peter McCormick, of Britain’s University of East Anglia’s School of Pharmacy

“There has been a great deal of medical interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms at work in THC, so that the beneficial effects can be harnessed without the side-effects. THC acts through a family of cell receptors called cannabinoid receptors. Our previous research revealed which of these receptors are responsible for the anti-tumour effects of THC.”

“This new research demonstrates how some of the drug’s beneficial effects can be separated from its unwanted side effects,” he added.

The new research, published in the journal PLOS Biology, carried out behavioural studies in mice and investigated how pathways in their brains operated under THC.

The scientists found that the absence of a particular serotonin receptor, known as 5HT2AR, reduced some of the effects of THC, such as memory loss, based on a standard memory test. Treatment to reduce 5HT2AR did not change other effects of THC, including pain relief, however.

“This research is important because it identifies a way to reduce some of what, in medical treatment, are usually thought of as THC’s unwanted side effects, while maintaining several important benefits including pain reduction,” Dr McCormick indicated.

He nevertheless urged patients to resist the temptation to “self-medicate.”

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