Western University researchers might have found a way to reverse the negative effects of the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana on the adolescent brain.
Chronic cannabis use during adolescence has been linked to the development of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia later in adulthood.
But, according to a new study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal on Tuesday, there might be a way to reverse this.
The study exposed adolescent rats to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), once they reached adulthood the researchers studied the rats’ prefrontal cortex.
The researchers found that THC exposure reduced a chemical in the brain called GABA, which regulates hyperactivity in the brain and has been associated with schizophrenia.
“We found a series of molecular changes in the prefrontal cortex that were very comparable to what we observe in the brains of people who have disorders like schizophrenia,” lead researcher Steve Laviolette told CTV London.
Laviolette and his team then used drugs to increase the amount of GABA in the rats’ brains. According to the study, this reversed chemical and behavioural effects of the THC and eliminated schizophrenia-like symptoms.
“We were able to pharmacologically restore the GABA system in the prefrontal cortex and remarkably what we saw was that it actually reversed all these behaviour deficits associated with this THC exposure,” said Laviolette.
More research is still needed to determine if boosting GABA has the same result in humans, but for those who have mental health problems Laviolette says there’s new hope.
“I think this is a really promising lead in terms of the potential of developing much safer versions of cannabinoid type drugs,” he said.
Laviolette added that these findings are especially important given the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada.
“What this could mean is that if you are going to be using marijuana, in a recreational or medicinal way, you can potentially combine it with compounds that boost GABA to block the negative effects of THC,” he said in a statement.
Laviolette and his team are now looking towards finding more effective and safer treatments for mental health disorders, such as addiction, depression and anxiety.
With files from CTV London’s Celine Moreau