A West Virginia University researcher is working to counter the effects of cannabis withdrawal.
A number of scientists around the world are finding adverse side effects in some people who use marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids on a daily basis.
“People who use it habitually often complain that they can’t stop because if they do, they start getting anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances,” said Steve Kinsey, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator on the study.
“Because of this, people will continue smoking because they cannot sleep.”
Cannabinoids are a diverse group of chemical compounds that can repress neurotransmitter release to the brain. There are many different types including endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally in the human body. There are also phytocannabinoids, which derive from plants such as the cannabis plant, also known as marijuana, as well as synthetic cannabinoids that are produced in the lab and are sometimes sold as “spice or “K-2” products.
“There is this misconception that THC (tetrohydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects) is this perfect drug because it is naturally occurring, but naturally occurring things are not necessarily good,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey observed the effect THC has on adult male mice. After the mice had been exposed to the chemical for a week, Kinsey’s team noticed changes in cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
Once the mice were weaned off the THC, the researchers noticed them exhibiting signs of anxiety and depression similar to that experienced by humans who have stopped smoking marijuana.
“Our goal is to normalize how the mice are reacting by increasing their endocannabinoid levels,” Kinsey said. By using enzyme inhibitors to raise those levels biologically in the mice, Kinsey hopes he’ll be able to return the mice to their original emotional states. If the lab is successful in normalizing the mice, Kinsey could be on the threshold to finding a way to lessen the effects of withdrawal by human marijuana users.
Kinsey’s research is supported by funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
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