Dam­ag­ing ef­fects of pot can be un­done, study finds

Western Univer­sity re­searchers find way to re­verse neg­a­tive psy­chi­atric ef­fects

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - NEWS - DALE CAR­RUTHERS

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

DEREK RUTTAN/POST­MEDIA NEWS

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.

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