Endocannabinoid Manipulation: A New Frontier in Psychotherapy

Last Monday in class we read an article detailing the research of the use of endocannabinoids in the treatment of certain psychiatric disorders.  Before we begin it is important that y0u understand what endocannabinoids are and what their normal role is in the human body.  Endocannabinoids are a kind of neurotransmitter that is present in the body that influence your perception of appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory.  There are two primary endocannabinoids that function in the endocannabinoid system, they are anandamide and 2-AG.  These chemicals interact with two different receptors, cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2(CBR1, CBR2).  CBR1 is found mostly in the brain, CBR2 was thought to be only present in the peripheral nervous system, but has only recently been discovered in the brain.  This being said, the article focuses on how numerous psychiatric disorders affect this system and certain treatments that have been tried in order to remedy them.  What most of these disorders boil down to is the matter that the endocannabinoid system, the relationship between the endocannabinoids and their receptors, is out of balance.  In anxiety, it has been found that CB1R’s, which act in order to maintain an appropriate anxiety level in stressful situation, as well as to help in the reduction of fear responses in the body and to adapt to such situations in the future are not present in sufficient amounts in order to maintain healthy levels of anxiety, the same goes for CB2R’s.  It has also been shown that lack of CBR’s are responsible for depression.  Interestingly enough, schizophrenia appears to result from CBR’s being expressed in the wrong places, put another way it is not a matter of the system functioning improperly, but that it did not develop properly.  The article also makes it a major issue to point out that cannabinoid use in adolescents and people with certain genetic abnormalities show an increased risk of developing shizophrenia later in life.  Another major focus for this article was on the endocannabinoid cannabidiol(CBD) and its effects on these psychiatric disorders.  It was interesting to see that CBD would only reduce anxiety once it had passed a certain threshold, whereas up until that threshold, it would actually increase anxiety, the researchers even found that an overdose of CBD would increase anxiety in test subjects.  Researchers also found that CBD may have anti-psychotic properties.  The article also talks about the interest that researchers have in treating eating disorders through endocannabinoid manipulation.  It recounts numerous drugs that reduce nausea for cancer patients, induce appetite in AIDS patients, help with weight loss and help treat spasticity which results from multiple sclerosis.

All in all, it was a very interesting article and it seems to me that the research that these people are doing could lead to some promising treatments for very serious disorders.  However, I do have one issue with people saying that because certain people are genetically predisposed to developing schizophrenia with cannabinoid use is not a sufficient reason in and of itself for the continued prohibition of marijuana for personal use.  Certain people are genetically predisposed to become alcoholics, but people are not clamoring to ban alcohol for everyone because certain people unknowingly possess this genetic trait.  That’s my bit, I’ll leave you until next week with my next rehashing of a scientific article.

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