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  Pot-Like Chemical Helps Beat Fear
Posted by CN Staff on July 31, 2002 at 18:10:24 PT
By Lidia Wasowicz, UPI Senior Science Writer 
Source: United Press International 

medical Natural molecules that act like the primary active ingredient in marijuana apparently play a key part in helping the brain wipe away fearful memories, perhaps averting undue anxiety and panic attacks, researchers report.

The discovery, detailed in the British journal Nature, could lead to the development of psychiatric drugs for the treatment of such fear-based conditions as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, they said.

The results of the mouse studies provide clues to the influence on human behavior of so-called "endocannabinoids," naturally occurring molecules related to the psychoactive ingredient in cannabinoids such as pot and hashish that have been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for some 3,000 years.

The ingredient, called delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol or delta9-THC, affects the nerve cells in the brain, producing its signature mind-altering effects by attaching itself to a protein on the surface of each cell. The protein, called the CB1 receptor, also provides a critical hook-up point for the endogenous cannabinoids -- the cannabinoids naturally produced by the body. Without it, the chemicals cannot do their prescribed job.

The five-year study, by Beat Lutz of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, and his German and Italian colleagues, revealed a previously unknown component of that job -- snuffing out terrifying memories as part of the body's fear-coping mechanism.

"Our work shows an involvement of the endogenous cannabinoid system in extinction of fear memory for the first time," Lutz told United Press International.

"We really had no idea before that this system might be involved in erasing of particular types of memories," neuroscientist Pankaj Sah of Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, who wrote an accompanying commentary, told UPI.

"Although we understand how fearful memories are stored in the brain, how they are extinguished remains a mystery. The answers may lie with the cannabinoid compounds our bodies produce," he added. "The finding might have implications for treating anxiety disorders in humans."

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health diseases, costing the United States some $46 billion a year in direct and indirect health-care expenses. Social phobia, the No. 1 anxiety disorder, affects some 5.3 million Americans annually. The persistent, irrational fear of social interactions leads to a compelling desire to avoid them at any cost. Specific phobias, of animals, objects or situations, touch more than one out of every 10 persons in the United States.

Another 5.2 million Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, characterized by emotional numbness and denial in the wake of extreme psychological stress brought on by war, violence, childhood abuse, sexual attack or serious accident, followed by months or years of recurring nightmares, "flashbacks," short-term memory problems, insomnia or heightened sensitivity to sudden noises.

Estimated cases of panic disorder -- sudden, repeated, intense feelings of terror and impending doom -- range between 3 million and 6 million a year. Twice as many women as men suffer the disorder that renders them sweaty, weak, faint, dizzy, trembling, numb and believing they are losing their mind or facing imminent death.

Such exaggerated reaction to a perceived threat -- be it a social engagement or an animal encounter -- is a legacy left humans by their earliest ancestors. This evolutionary inheritance includes instincts to stay alert in potentially dangerous situations, including binding or boundless spaces, lofty heights or impending confrontations with creatures perceived as repulsive or threatening, such as spiders or snakes.

Guarding against possible hazards is as important as recognizing false alarms. When the prospect of danger fails to materialize, most humans sigh with relief and relax. But there are those, termed phobics, who cannot adapt and remain on high alert even in the absence of any threat. Examples include the uncontrollable over-reaction that leads to panic attacks or the emotional scars from accidents, war experiences or other traumatic experiences that fail to heal with time. The new findings point to the endogenous cannabinoid system of the brain as a key prop in this delicate balancing act.

In the experiments, normal mice and those lacking the cannabinoid receptor CB1 heard a tone, then felt an electric shock to the foot. Over the next few days, the researchers sounded the tone without administering the shock. The normal rodents soon started to regard the sound as benign and stopped responding by freezing in fear. The mutants, on the other hand, continued for a much longer time to react to the tone as if it portended terrible things to come.

"All animals showed a remarkable fear reaction during the first re-exposure to the tone," Lutz explained. "With repeated tone presentations, control mice quickly recovered from this fear reaction. CB1-deficient mice, in contrast, showed only a weak reduction of fear."

To wipe away frightful recollections, endocannabinoids flood the amygdala -- the brain's almond-shaped center of threat recognition, fear and aggression -- where they dampen the action of its nerve cells, helping to dismantle terrifying associations.

Drugs that boost the chemicals' activity in this region of the brain might help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, panic attacks and certain forms of chronic pain, scientists told UPI.

"The finding that the endocannabinoids contribute to extinction raises the possibility that drugs that target these molecules and their receptors could be useful new treatments for anxiety disorders," Sah said.

Once thought of as character flaws, these conditions are now recognized as having biological and psychological components. Treatment often combines medication with psychotherapy.

"To my mind (the study) raises issues about why people use cannabis in the first place," Sah told UPI. "We all take aspirin for headaches and toothaches -- of course, aspirin does not have the same gamut of cognitive actions as cannabis. But it's worth considering that people (who) constantly use cannabis may be doing it for other reasons than just to 'get high' -- perhaps they are experiencing some emotional problems which taking cannabis alleviates. Much the same way as some people drink alcohol to relieve anxiety."

Sah concluded, "This work tells us that the cannabinoid system is very old and plays roles in evolutionarily quite old behaviors. This, I suppose, fits with the very long history of use of cannabis in human society. It tells us that trying to work out how cannabinoids act is a very useful exercise whose outcome could have important medical benefits in the future."

From the Science & Technology Desk

Source: United Press International
Author: Lidia Wasowicz, UPI Senior Science Writer
Published: July 31, 2002
Copyright 2002 United Press International
Website: http://www.upi.com/
Contact: http://www.upi.com/about/contact.cfm

Related Article & Web Site:

Medical Marijuana Information Links
http://freedomtoexhale.com/medical.htm

Natural High Extinguishes Bad Memories in Brain
http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread13593.shtml

CannabisNews Medical Marijuana Archives
http://cannabisnews.com/news/list/medical.shtml


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Comment #8 posted by Ethan Russo MD on August 01, 2002 at 05:56:00 PT:

Yes, This is a Big Deal
Imagine a life in which your brain was flooded with memories, good, bad, pleasant, or grotesque, over which you have no control whatsoever. Your life was a pit of inescapable anxiety, terror and pain. How would you function? How could you remember to pick up the kids at school, or manage that project your boss wanted by 9 AM?

That would be what happened if your endocannabinoid system did not function properly.

The research of Lutz et al. demonstrates the integral role that the endocannabinoid system plays in our normal everyday neurophysiology. "Endocannabinoids," or endogenous cannabinoids are the natural substances (anandamide, 2-arachidonylglycerol, noladine ether) that act on the same receptors as THC. They are proving to have essential roles in modulation of pain, memory, movement, and immunomodulation. Without them, we'd be in a proverbial world of hurt.

Somewhere in the course of evolution, a marvelous plant emerged in Central Asia that contained phytocannabinoids, plant chemicals that mimicked the effects of these endogenous compounds. (Wo)Man tried it, and (s)he liked it. It relieved pain, eased grief, and spurred imagination and creativity. The plant was selectively cultivated and co-evolved with humans, and spread around the globe.

Some oligarchic few in power over other humans (read: moralistic micro-managers and politicians) have tried to persecute the plant and prevent its use, but in each historical instance they have failed utterly. Denying this plant called cannabis as having a therapeutic role in human medicine is the same as denying our own physiology.

I predict that cannabis and cannabinoids will have a key future role in the treatment of anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They might be combined with other techniques, such as EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to produce synergistic benefits on a condition that has been recalcitrant to standard medical approaches.

There is more. In the past few years, I have attempted to introduce the concept of "clinical endocannabinoid deficiency," that is, that certain diseases are accounted for by a condition in which levels of these innate compounds are too low, producing pain (migraine, phantom limb), gut spasms (idiopathic bowel syndrome), or PTSD, as just a few possible examples. Science will demonstrate the veracity or folly of this construct, but I predict the former formulation will prevail.

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #7 posted by E_Johnson on August 01, 2002 at 00:49:57 PT
Dr. Ethan is this the Revolution?
Is this going to have a serious impact?

It pretty much kills the schizophrenia theory. It explains any correlation between teen pot smoking and adult schizophrenia as early attempts at self medication for anxiety symptoms accompanying the onset of the illness.



[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #6 posted by qqqq on August 01, 2002 at 00:28:26 PT
..no wonder...
..so many people get busted for pot....it makes you not afraid of getting busted......until..the nightmare happens, ,and the kind,,gentle,,peaceful,,harmless potsmoker is in handcuffs,,and then on their way through an absurd legal oddysey of incarcerations,,,court appearances,,,fines,,,"treatments",,random tests,,,,,and.....Ruined Lives!!!

[ Post Comment ]
 
Comment #5 posted by E_Johnson on July 31, 2002 at 21:27:53 PT
Someone hand poor Noelle Bush a spliff
It seems that many people smoke marijuana to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It is good todiscern this so we can get them to stop the marijuana and take the medication.

Like Xanax, for which Noele Bush is undergoing forced rehab?



[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #4 posted by xxdr_zombiexx on July 31, 2002 at 19:10:26 PT
oooh...
Pot-like chemmmmmicallllllllsssss.........mmmmmmmmmmmm I like them in brownie-like semi-cake things.

The mental health center I started working at 8 years ago had a psychiatric residency program. Part of the requirements involved developing and presenting lectures on diagnoses, treatments, medications, and so forth.

I remember 1 young MD was dealing with anti-anxiety medications and marijuana use.

"It seems that many people smoke marijuana to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It is good todiscern this so we can get them to stop the marijuana and take the medication." - The well-meaning young psychiatrist atone of his clinical lectures.

I remember he rattled off a few use stats - NIDA, of course.

I quizzed him about the mortality rate and he shuffled through papers for a moment and advised there seemed to be no reports of overdoses or deaths. It was amusing.

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #3 posted by E_Johnson on July 31, 2002 at 18:46:00 PT
And now the reason for prohibition can be revealed
If victims of social abuse cannot be healed from their fear by their herb then they can be controlled by their fear.

The story of Louis Armstrong vs. Harry Anslinger says it all. The Bible said it all. Modern society is just too dumb to hear it in that language so they need a five year study.

PTSD counselors at the VA have known since the post Vietnam days that marijuana cured nightmares and flashbacks of combat and atrocities but they entered into a conspiracy of silence as federal employees. And reas feminist Judith Herman in Trauma and recovery on the political relationship between PTSD, rape and Vietnam. She sees war as a form of transgenerational abuse, like child abuse, with old men sending young men into bloody combat to increase the wealth and power of the old men.

Notice this research was done at Max Planck Institute. In Europe Alan Leshner has no authority. Notice it was published in Nature. Alan Leshner runs currently Science, which is the American version of Nature.

Now we need the political and social and economic analysis to be integrated into the science and then real reason for the distinct marijuana prohibition episodes throughout history will finally come into focus.



[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #2 posted by E_Johnson on July 31, 2002 at 18:34:53 PT
It's not so wrong to listen to God, eh?
The tree of life is for the healing of the nations.

Now modern Western science finally confirms it.



[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on July 31, 2002 at 18:26:34 PT
God and horticulture beat you to it
The discovery, detailed in the British journal Nature, could lead to the development of psychiatric drugs for the treatment of such fear-based conditions as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, they said.

5,000 or so years too late mates.



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