Damaging effects of pot can be undone, study finds
Western University researchers find way to reverse negative psychiatric effects
Western University researchers have made a break-through discovery on how to potentially reverse the damage marijuana-use inflicts on teens’ brains.
Just days after the Ontario Liberals announced plans to begin selling recreational pot at dozens of government-run stores next summer, a research team at the London university say they’ve found a drug that counters the long-term negative psychiatric effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in cannabis that gives users the euphoric high feeling.
Previous research has linked chronic pot use by teens with a range of psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia later in life, with the risk rising the earlier teens begin using marijuana.
The Western study, published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, demonstrated adolescent THC exposure affects the neurotransmitter called GABA, a chemical messenger previously associated with schizophrenia, in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
The seven-member research team found that when GABA was reduced by THC exposure in adolescence, neurons in that region of the brain became hyperactive and out of synch, resulting in an abnormal state in the dopamine system that’s commonly seen in schizophrenia.
Using drugs to activate GABA in rats, researchers reversed the effects of THC to eliminate the schizophrenia-like symptoms.
“Even after the damage has occurred in adolescence, if can you effectively target these changes, you can potentially mitigate these negative symptoms and reverse some of these side effects,” study co-author Steven Laviolette, an associate professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said Tuesday.
Last week, the province lifted the veil on its much-anticipated plan to sell recreational pot in Ontario. A subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) will begin selling marijuana to those 19 and older at 40 outlets — orders can also be placed online — by the summer. A task force had recommended 18 be the minimum age for buying marijuana, but provinces have been given free reign to raise the requirement.
But pot’s potential to have lasting psychiatric effects continues into your mid-twenties, said Dr. Laurent Marcoux of the Canadian Medical Association.
“There is a high risk because the human brain develops until 25,” Marcoux said, adding not enough is known about the long-term effects of cannabis to introduce the drug for recreational use.
“It’s like 50 years ago with cigarettes,” he said.
Laviolette, who first started researching cannabis 13 years ago at the University of Pittsburgh, said red tape often gets in the way of marijuana work.
“Even the non-psychoactive compounds found in marijuana are listed as narcotics, so you need to get licences, you need to get exemptions,” he said. “I think it scares a lot of people away from actually conducting these studies.”
And then there’s the struggle to source pure THC.
Despite the federal government’s plan to legalize recreational pot by July 1, 2018, Laviolette has to order THC from the United States, paying around $2,000 a gram for the substance — significantly more than the $10 a gram of pot sells for on the street.
“It can be done, but it’s prohibitive,” Laviolette said of obtaining pure THC.
Lavilette and his team of researchers will now turn their focus exploring how combinations of cannabinoid chemicals can boost the brain’s GABA system as a potential treatment for mood disorders like addictions, depression and anxiety.
“As we move forward in the biotechnology sphere in developing safer drugs that are based in cannabinoids, we might want to look at compounds that interact with the GABA system to mitigate the potential side effects of THC,” Laviolette said. The London Free Press
Steven Laviolette of Western University led a study published Tuesday on how to reverse the negative effects of marijuana use among teenagers. Chronic marijuana use at a young age has been linked to the development of psychiatric diseases such as schizonphrenia in adulthood.