A recent study done by researchers at the University of East Anglia in collaboration with the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona has discovered a new way of separating the medical benefits of cannabis from its unwanted side effects. This research team was also responsible for discovering before how the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, known as THC, reduces tumour growth in cancer patients.
The findings of this study were published in the journal PLOS Biology. They reveal that the beneficial effects of THC in the brain are triggered by a pathway that is separate from its side effects. The said pathway involves a cannabinoid receptor and a serotonin receptor. When the receptor is blocked, THC can still lead to other several beneficial effects such as pain relief without further impairment on memory.
The study was carried out in mice but the researchers hope that this breakthrough may pave the way for other safe medical marijuana therapies that will not cause changes in perception, mood and memory.
Dr Peter McCormick, from UEA’s school of Pharmacy remarked, “THC, the major active component of marijuana, has broad medical use — including for pain relief, nausea and anxiety. Our previous research has also found that it could reduce tumour size in cancer patients. However it is also known to induce numerous undesirable side effects such as memory impairment, anxiety and dependence. There has been a great deal of medical interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms at work in THC, so that the beneficial effects can be harnessed without the side-effects.”
He further added, “THC acts through a family of cell receptors called cannabinoid receptors. Our previous research revealed which of these receptors are responsible for the anti-tumour effects of THC. This new research demonstrates how some of the drug’s beneficial effects can be separated from its unwanted side effects.”
The research group performed behavioural studies in mice and studied how the pathways in their brains function under the influence of THC. The team later found out that the absence of a certain serotonin receptor (5HT2AR) has lead to the decrease in some of the effects of THC such as its amnesic effects. The results were based on a standard memory test. However, treatment to reduce 5HT2AR did not alter the other effects of THC such as pain relief.
Dr. McCormick further added, “This research is important because it identifies a way to reduce some of what, in medical treatment, are usually thought of as THC’s unwanted side effects, while maintaining several important benefits including pain reduction.”But he also mentioned that patients should not self-medicate. “Patients should not use cannabis to self-medicate, but I hope that our research will lead to a safe synthetic equivalent being available in the future.”
University of East Anglia. (2015, July 9). Scientists separate medical benefits of cannabis from ‘unwanted’ side effects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150709144842.htm