Western University researchers testing ways to reverse long-term effects of marijuana

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Reversing the effects of marijuana with other drugs?

Western University researchers have found a way to do it.

The team of researchers has tested out a way to overturn the negative, long-term psychiatric effects of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, using pharmaceutical drugs – an important development since chronic marijuana use in teens has been linked to the development of psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia later in life.

Until now, researchers didn’t know exactly what was happening in the brain to cause this.

In the study, published online today in Scientific Reports, researchers show THC exposure in teens changes the way one specific neurotransmitter – previously shown to have a link with schizophrenia cases – operates.

“Not only have we identified a specific mechanism in the prefrontal cortex for some of the mental health risks associated with adolescent marijuana use, but we have also identified a mechanism to reverse those risks,” said Steven Laviolette, professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The neurotransmitter, called GABA, plays a critical role in regulating activity in the brain.

“If you have less GABA, your neuronal systems become hyperactive leading to behavioural changes consistent with schizophrenia,” said Justine Renard, post-doctoral fellow who lead the study with Laviolette.

The study showed the reduction of GABA caused by THC exposure in teens caused the neurons in adulthood to not only be hyperactive, but also to be out of synch with each other.

This loss of GABA caused a hyperactive state in the brain’s dopamine system, researchers said, which is commonly observed in schizophrenia.

By using drugs to activate GABA in a rats with schizophrenia, the team was able to reverse the behavioural effects of the THC and eliminate the schizophrenia-like symptoms.

“What this could mean is that if you are going to be using marijuana, in a recreational or medicinal way, you can potentially combine it with compounds that boost GABA to block the negative effects of THC,” said Laviolette, adding the findings are especially important with the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada.

The researchers now want to study how combining cannabinoid chemicals with compounds that can boost GABA may create safer treatments for mental health disorders like addiction, depression and anxiety.

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