Researchers Identify Clues About Marijuana Effects
Scientists have been studying cannabinoids, substances that are chemically related to the ingredients found in marijuana, for more than two decades, hoping to learn more about how the drug produces its effects–both therapeutic and harmful. Marijuana has been reported effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, nausea caused by chemotherapy and wasting caused by AIDS. However, like all drugs, it also causes numerous unwanted side effects, including hypothermia, sedation, memory impairment, motor impairment and anxiety. Research on cannabinoids could someday yield new, more effective drugs or drug combinations.
At Temple University’s School of Pharmacy and Center for Substance Abuse Research (CSAR), one of only a few centers in the nation focused on the basic science of substance abuse, several researchers are investigating how cannabinoids produce pharmacological effects in rats.
One such study, “L-NAME, a nitric oxide synthase inhibitor, and WIN 55212-2, a cannabinoid agonist, interact to evoke synergistic hypothermia,” published in the February issue of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, reveals how cannabinoids produce one of the drug’s most robust actions, hypothermia, or decreased body temperature.
According to lead author Scott Rawls, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacodynamics at Temple’s School of Pharmacy, “To operate at maximum efficiency, the body needs to maintain a stable, normal temperature. When the body’s temperature is altered, as in hypothermia, normal body functions, such as blood pressure and circulation, are impaired.”
Marijuana operates via two receptors in the body. One receptor, called CB1, is located in the brain and produces the drug’s psychoactive effects, including euphoria and dizziness. The other receptor, CB2, is found throughout the body and impacts the immune system. Substances in marijuana bind to one of these receptors and set off a chemical process that leads to an effect, such as hypothermia. Scientists have focused on this chemical process at the molecular level to pinpoint the exact molecules involved.
Knowing that the molecule nitric oxide (NO) plays an important role in the regulation of body temperature, the Temple researchers set out to determine what role it might play in cannabinoid-induced hypothermia. By combining a cannabinoid with a substance that blocked NO synthesis, they found that cannabinoid-induced hypothermia increased more than two-fold.
“This demonstrates the possibility that NO plays a part in regulating the impact of cannabinoids on body temperature and other cannabinoid-mediated actions,” said Rawls. “These findings could be helpful in determining the mechanisms that underlie some of the pharmacological actions of marijuana,” he added.
Rawls’ research team is currently investigating the impact of cannabinoids on other physiological systems, such as analgesia and movement, and the brain neurotransmitters that mediate those systems.
Scientists have been studying cannabinoids, substances that are chemically related to the ingredients found in marijuana, for more than two decades, hoping to learn more about how the drug produces its effects–both therapeutic and harmful.
9 Things Smoking Weed Does to Your Body
When it comes to polarizing health topics, few subjects spark more debate than weed (except maybe CrossFit or the Paleo Diet). Can it improve your health? Lower stress? Make you more forgetful? Even make you thinner?
The science is still, well, hazy—but some research is starting to give us an idea of what exactly weed does to the human body.
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For instance: Toking up regularly could dull your emotional response and cause addiction, according to a marijuana study from the University of Michigan Health System. Researchers analyzed 108 people in their early 20s (69 men and 39 women), all of whom were taking part in a larger study of substance use. In the study, participants sat in an MRI while they played a game, in which they pressed a button when they saw a target on a computer screen cross in front of them. Before each round, they were told they could win 20 cents or $5—or they might lose that amount, or have no reward or loss. Scientists assessed the moment of anticipation (a.k.a. when volunteers knew they could get a few dollars richer).
Now, you’d think getting free money would be cause for excitement, but scientists found the more marijuana use volunteers reported, the less their reward centers were activated.
“Over time, marijuana use was associated with a lower response to a monetary reward,” study author and neuroscientist Mary Heitzeg, Ph.D, said in a press release. “This means that something that would be rewarding to most people was no longer rewarding to them, suggesting but not proving that their reward system has been ‘hijacked’ by the drug, and that they need the drug to feel reward—or that their emotional response has been dampened.”
That’s not all. Smoking weed might also be more addicting than you think.
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“Some people may believe that marijuana is not addictive or that it’s ‘better’ than other drugs that can cause dependence,” Heitzeg said. “But this study provides evidence that it’s affecting the brain in a way that may make it more difficult to stop using it. It changes your brain in a way that may change your behavior, and where you get your sense of reward from.”
To be fair: Even if one scientific study suggests that marijuana might help your bones grow or hurt your short-term memory, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. All this research is still developing, and it’ll be a long time before we know anything for sure about weed’s effects on the human body. Still, it’s good to know where the science is heading.
Find out all the other ways—good and bad—marijuana could be influencing your health.
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Find out 9 ways marijuana could be influencing your health. The science is still hazy—but research is giving us an idea of what weed does to the body.