Definitive proof of an adverse effect of chronic marijuana use revealed at SNM’s 58th Annual Meeting could lead to potential drug treatments and aid other research involved in cannabinoid receptors, a neurotransmission system receiving a lot of attention. Scientists used molecular imaging to visualize changes in the brains of heavy marijuana smokers versus non-smokers and found that abuse of the drug led to a decreased number of cannabinoid CB1 receptors, which are involved in not just pleasure, appetite and pain tolerance but a host of other psychological and physiological functions of the body.
“Addictions are a major medical and socioeconomic problem,” says Jussi Hirvonen, MD, Ph.D., lead author of the collaborative study between the National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Md. “Unfortunately, we do not fully understand the neurobiological mechanisms involved in addiction. With this study, we were able to show for the first time that people who abuse cannabis have abnormalities of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This information may prove critical for the development of novel treatments for cannabis abuse. Furthermore, this research shows that the decreased receptors in people who abuse cannabis return to normal when they stop smoking the drug.”