Pot Smoking and Developing Brains
Monday, March 6, 2017 130 Comments
Studies may lead to help for PTSD
as well as a greater understanding of addiction
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Foundational Concept of the Intentionality Series
Opinions vs. Facts
Weed, Ganja, MaryJane, Cannabis, Pot, Hemp, Herb, Reefer
Some of my Senior readers may not recognize each of them, but practically any teen can tell you that they are all names for marijuana.
You know, that stuff you can roll into a joint that – except in jest – only the most out-of-it refer to as “a funny cigarette.”
The technical term for marijuana is cannabis – for a very good reason. Since at least 1967, various chemical constituents of marijuana have been classified as cannabinoids.
They act on cannabinoid receptors in cells throughout our bodies, and alter neurotransmitter release in the brain – but they are NOT all the same.
One toke gets you higher and another makes you well?
THC [delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta-9-THC] is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – the stuff that gets you high – but it is not always the most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana.
Cannabidiol is currently one of the most exciting of the 85+ known cannabinoids.
Also known as CBD, it is stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight as a potentially breakthrough nutritional component and treatment.
It occurs naturally in significant quantities in cannabis, and it is extracted relatively easily from the seeds, stalk and flowers of cannabis plants – which include hemp as well as marijuana. (The main functional difference between hemp and marijuana is the level of THC.)
Receptor Sites and Binding
All recent studies have indicated that the behavioral effects of THC are receptor mediated. That means that neurons in the brain are activated when a compound binds to its receptor — a protein typically located on the surface of a particular cell “specialized” to, metaphorically, “speak its language.”
So THC gets you high only after binding to its receptor. That, in turn, triggers a series of events in the cell that results in a change in the cell’s activity, its gene regulation, or the signals that it sends on to another cell.
Steven R. Laviolette and his team at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry discovered that directly activating cannabinoid receptors in a region of the brain called the amygdala, can strongly influence the significance of emotional information and memory processing.
Activating cannabinoid receptors also dramatically increased the activity patterns of neurons in a connected region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex [PFC].
That, in turn, controls how the brain perceives the emotional significance of sensory information, and the strength of the memories associated with these emotional experiences.
Regular readers may recall that the PFC has connections to, essentially, every other part of the brain.
It is the part of the cortex that allows us to regulate Executive Functions appropriately – items like planning, problem solving, concentration, mental flexibility, and controlling short-term behavior to achieve long-term goals.
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Dr. Laviolette’s interest is in figuring out how it all works
Laviolette is a professor in the departments of anatomy and cell biology, and psychiatry of Western University.
He and his team are exploring the brain-based mechanisms of emotionally related learning, both in single neurons and in specific brain circuits.
That has led them to explore how disturbances in these basic neural processes may lead to disorders like addiction as well as schizophrenia.
Their investigations into the neurobiology of addiction have focused on nicotine and opiates, both highly addictive substances that act on pathways in the brain that are also known to control reward, motivation and learning.
His research group has identified specific regions in the brains of mammals that, following exposure to drugs of abuse, control the ‘switch’ from the non-addicted state to the addicted state.
Their research is ongoing, hoping to precisely identify and define the neurobiological mechanisms that control the addiction process at behavioral, molecular and single neuron levels of analysis.
Stay tuned for more about addiction.
Back to Cannabinoids
Dr. Laviolette’s research group has also focused on the roles of the endocannabinoid system and specific dopamine receptor populations in the processing of emotionally salient information.
- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter long believed to be another major player in the ADD/EFD population.
- Emotional salience is the term used in the study of perception and cognition to refer to any aspect of a stimulus that is, for any reason, prominent or conspicuous.
Their ongoing research seeks to examine how disturbances in these brain receptor substrates may underlie the distorted sensory processing and emotional associative learning frequently seen in schizophrenics.
THC and teens
One of their studies, published in the January 2016 issue of Cerebral Cortex, showed that the key psychoactive component of marijuana harms adolescent rats, producing changes similar to what is found in schizophrenia.
Adolescent rodents given THC were socially withdrawn and had increased anxiety, elevated levels of dopamine and an inability to filter out unnecessary information, all factors in schizophrenia. Changes persisted into adulthood.
“Adolescence is a critical period of brain development and the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable,” says Laviolette.
“These findings are of great clinical relevance given recent evidence suggesting that exposure to marijuana during adolescence can increase the likelihood of developing schizophrenia later in life,” he postulates.
He goes on to say, “We know there are abnormalities in both the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in patients who have schizophrenia, and we now know these same brain areas are critical to the effects of marijuana and other cannabinoid drugs on emotional processing.”
Medical Marijuana that’s Different
I want to underscore the reality that none of the research on THC is likely to have anything to say about Medical Marijuana which is developed and grown to be abundant in CBD – cannabidiol.
Don’t confuse these two cannabinoids –
and don’t rely on information from sites or studies that lump them all together.
For more information, check the Related Content links below
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