Marijuana and Schizophrenia: New Study Explains How It Could Help

schizophrenia-marijuana-helps – The traditional belief that marijuana is bad for schizophrenia has been challenged time and time again by studies which suggest an opposite effect. Now a team of researchers at the University of Texas have found evidence that seems to explain why it helps.

Published in the August issue of Neuropsychopharmacology, their findings demonstrate a link between symptoms of schizophrenia and a lack of cannabinoid activity. Cannabinoids are a group of chemicals found in marijuana as well as the human brain, where they help to regulate normal function.

According to Alexandre Seillier, Ph.D, who co-authored the study, chemicals like THC may actually work to counter the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Those who warn patients to avoid THC may be oversimplifying its role in the disorder, he explained to us.

“When people say THC is bad, it’s not always the case.”

Dr. Seillier believes the results offer a “possible explanation for why people use THC to medicate some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.” Likewise, research from other groups exists showing schizophrenics who use cannabis experience less negative symptoms than non-users.

In the new study, researchers used a drug called URB597 to increase levels of a natural cannabinoid (called anandamide) in rat models of schizophrenia. This caused a reversal in social withdrawal – one of the core symptoms of schizophrenia – leading the researchers to believe that a lack of cannabinoids may underlie the disease, or at least certain symptoms of it.

“The idea is maybe they have less to start with and when we increase the (endo)cannabinoids we restore normal physiological level.”

The study also identified an interesting difference between activity of the brain’s cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) and cannabinoids found outside the body. While an increase in endocannabinoids reduced social withdrawal in schizophrenic rats, it had the opposite effect in normal rats. However, using chemicals that stimulate cannabinoid receptors directly seemed to avoid that problem.

“We tried one CB1 receptor agonist and indeed it was different. It produced the same beneficial effects in the schizophrenia-like rats but did not produce deleterious effects in the normal rats.”

Whether this is the case for THC has yet to be determined, but Dr. Seillier hopes to have the answer soon. His next study will look at the effects of THC in schizophrenia in order to further clarify the role of marijuana in treating the disorder.

The study was funded by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

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