Your Brain On Cannabis: Part Three

Welcome to the final part of this three part series on the effects of cannabis on the brain, and today we look at marijuana as medicine.

There are several well-documented beneficial effects of marijuana including the amelioration of nausea and vomiting, stimulation of hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, lowered intraocular eye pressure (shown to be effective for treating glaucoma), as well as general analgesic effects (pain reliever).

The first treatment to emerge from understanding cannabinoids is the drug rimonabant, recently approved in Europe to treat obesity and related metabolic conditions. The drug works by binding to receptors in the brain and body organs to block cannabinoid action. Studies have shown that an overactivated cannabinoid system in brain areas like the hypothalamus -which is involved in appetite increases food intake and fat accumulation. Rimonabant and similar compounds reduce cannabinoid overstimulation to help normalize appetite, body weight and fat, and also cholesterol levels. Drugs that decrease cannabinoid action also may cause anxiety or depression-side effects scientists are working to combat.

Research is underway to determine if rimonabant also will help smokers and heavy drinkers quit. Scientists believe that rimonabant could work in these conditions by reducing levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain’s motivation centers, which nicotine and other addictive drugs trigger.

In 2011, an oromucosal spray for Multiple Sclerosis patients became licensed for use as a medicine in Canada and parts of Europe, allowing it to be routinely prescribed by doctors. This drug reduces the pain, tremor, and muscle spasms associated with this disease.

Synthesized cannabinoids are also sold as prescription drugs, including Marinol (dronabinol) in the United States and Germany and Cesamet (nabilone) in Canada, Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom. Canada, Spain, The Netherlands, Austria and fourteen states in the US have legalized some form of cannabis for medicinal use.

I regularly visit schools to explain how addictive drugs including cannabis affect the brain.

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For those interested in the topic of marijuana abuse more information can be found at: http://drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/Marijuana/marijuana3.html