Pot Blocks Painful Memories, Study Says

Pot Blocks Painful Memories, Study Says
Posted by CN Staff on August 01, 2002 at 08:07:38 PT
By Alanna Mitchell
Source: Globe and Mail 
Can it finally be medical proof of the old hippie bromide smoke your troubles away? An international group of biochemists and pharmacologists has found that the brain can use cannabis to wipe away painful memories.The findings, published yesterday in the journal Nature, are the results of experiments on mice. But the study's lead author, Beat Lutz of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, said that the findings may have implications for humans.
"The obvious idea is to smoke marijuana and to get rid of bad memories," he said yesterday from Munich. "It can erase bad memories faster. But it has to be supported by psychotherapy."The findings add to the mounting evidence that marijuana, an illegal drug, may have widespread medical benefits.Canada is caught up in a policy struggle over marijuana. The Department of Health grows the stuff and has set up a system so that the sick can legally possess it for medical reasons. The federal government has a stash of several hundred kilograms but can't figure out how to distribute it to those in medical need, because selling and buying the substance is illegal.Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has been talking about decriminalizing the substance, and he admitted to smoking it.Dr. Lutz's study will only add to the argument in favour of decriminalization. But it is also a landmark in medical terms because it deals with one of the central survival mechanisms of the vertebrate brain: the ability to spot danger and flee from it.Scientists have long understood that the brain can reprogram itself not to flee if the danger goes away. That is called extinction of a memory. But scientists have not understood how it happens.Dr. Lutz's research shows that the answer lies in the body's store of cannabinoids, or cannabis-like natural chemicals, produced whenever the body needs them. The brain has a receptor for these cannabis-like chemicals and can use them to help reprogram the response to a fear.A problem is that the fear reaction can stick around when no longer needed. That can lead to panic attacks or paralyzing irrational fear.Dr. Lutz said his finding could mean that a person in the grip of trauma might be able to summon up the terrible memory, with the help of a psychotherapist, then smoke marijuana to enhance the ability of the brain to extinguish the memory.He said that smoking is by far the most efficient way of getting the substance to the brain, although researchers are looking at an aerosol to administer it straight to the lungs.But Dr. Lutz was vehement in pointing out that simply smoking dope is not the way to take away the emotional pain. If this were to work, the patient would have to consciously retrieve the memory and concentrate on extinguishing it through the moderate, controlled use of cannabis. The practice of smoking dope to get happy is not going have this therapeutic effect.Harold Kalant, a professor emeritus of pharmacology at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health with the University of Toronto, also cautioned against misinterpretation of the findings. He noted that heavy, regular use of marijuana has well-documented negative effects.And too much marijuana can diminish the brain's ability to lay down new memories, rather than aid the removal of bad ones. "This could make matters worse," he said.Dr. Kalant also cautioned against believing that any drug is a magic medical bullet. He pointed out that morphine, cocaine and heroin were hailed with "wildly ecstatic claims" at first."Drugs are not a cure-all. Every drug has a downside," he said. Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author: Alanna MitchellPublished: Thursday, August 1, 2002  Print Edition, Page A6Copyright: 2002 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Nature Cannabis Chemical Erases Fears 'Natural' Cannabis Manages Memory Chemical Helps Beat Fear
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Comment #4 posted by doctorbill on September 21, 2005 at 06:08:57 PT:
PTSD is merely one aspect of endocanna. fuction.
It is as though the psychologists and neuroscientists of today are refusing to study their own minds in order to come to conclusions on the pharmacological effects of drugs in the brain. Why does it take this long to come up with minimal conclusions such as 'Endocannabinoids MIGHT be responsible for forgetting traumatic memories'. Here is my take on the issue:Cannabinoids affect neurons all over the brain, but more specifically, they affect pyrimidal neurons, the neurons that link many bipolar and one directional neurons that act as our brains biological 'Logic gates'. These pyrimidal cells have many connections to many other neurons. Almost as if they are the intersections of the highways in the brain. Now, when one gets stoned, we can see that there are some very clearly observable affects of cannabinoids. One aspect of the cannabis experience is area of concentration. The percievable area of concentration is much more specific than in the sober mind. This leads to people having trouble with logical sequencing, which requires the aknowlegement of numerous factors from different areas of long term, short term, and working memories. There is of course, practically no working memory in the stoned mind, and so a lot of desired logical sequences cannot be reached. Cannabis has been said to 'hinder concentration' when it is well known that cannabis actually enhances concentration to levels impossible to many while sober. However the problem is that the concentration is on directional. it will keep advancing to whatever thought pops up. It is incontrollable and often directed at things that are not in the best interests of a task that the person must undertake. Spacially, people are said to have less coordination when under teh influence of cannabis. However this is ignorant to the real experience going on. Lack of coordination does not come from the depression of the CNS. it comes from the area of concentration that a person percieves. under the influence, one is able to perform amazing feats of phsyical attunity. However this is only possible in the aknowleged spacial area in the right hemisphere. So how does this fit into the pyrimidal cell idea? Well seeing as these cells link many neurons together, it makes sense that cannabinoids affect the way these neurons channel nervous signals. pain does not seem to register in the same way when stoned as when sober. however, the pleasure gates are opened and pleasure can be felt much more when stoned. Is this a channeling of pyrimidal intersections?Now I could of course go further in there but the real topic here is cannabinoid effects on emotional memory. When stoned, and in teh right environment, bias is dropped in many ways. Experiences are taken as they are, as are thoughts and ideas. When sober, almost every experience is linked to an emotional or judgemental bias. For example, dismissing ideas immediately due to their laterality. Or prejudice to other cultures regardless of teh actual nature of the culture. This is dangrous for governments and is easily turned around to be seen as a bad effect of cannabis. For example, in the 1930's, prohibition propaganda cited that 'cannabis caused white women to be attracted to black men'. Of course, today, this is not a problem, and in non racist societies, white women often are attracted to black men for various reasons. What was really going on? were white women losing their judgement? well.. yes! but the problem was in teh judgement, not in its lack. 
I hope this makes sense. So what is going on here? linkning in with the pyrimidal idea, perhaps the purpose of these cells is to make automatic links between various thoughts. For example, when in a normal state, many logical sequences are executable. Mathematicians for example have many concrete logical links in their mind that can convert a symbol on a page to a string of individual functions that a good mathematician can calculate simultaneously. 
In the same way, prejudice comes when, for example, the thought of another race automatically renders certain judgements. 
Stereotypes have an important role in the mind. A person mustbe able to generalise in order too maximise survival potential. concrete links must be established in many instances so that they dont have to be re-established every time a person enters whatever situation it is that requires these links. Now i hope all this has been linearly connective because through all this we can clearly see what is going on in the aspect of traumatic memories. In the instance of traumatic memories, the memory is automatically LINKED, prejudiced, sterotyped, to an emotion, namely, trauma. Pyrimidal cells most likely (through all this observation, but its not proven.. not that any of these studies have proven anything anyway) have a role in this by automatically linking memories to emotions. At teh same time, emotions can be linked to memories, and many other links can be made so that in people experiencing post traumatic stress, these connectios can link to almost all facets of their life. so how does cannabis help? well what it does for many memories, is allow people to extinguish these emotional links by blocking off the pyrimidal-logic-connections. a stoned person will remember the memory but not the emotions that come with it. however they will generate new emotions at the time, depending on their state or teh significance of the memory. with the right therapudic/emotional support, the interpretation of memories can be changed for the better. however insecure/weak minded individuals (not their fault, just their nature)can succumb to merely remembering issues and developing totally new emotions that are just as traumatic, or alternatively, depressing and esteem-burning. This is why these beneficial uses of cannabinoids only come with teh correct guidance/education. and so, we can conclude that PTSD is the overaction of stereotyped thought patterns (linkning thoughts to emotion), and cannabis allows for overcoming these connections by allowing for not only an emotionally fresh memory (subject to new perception), but increased ability to concentrate on all issues surrounding the memory, through increased-specific-concentration. I hope this was interesting. Please point out any errors in the logical connections i have made between cause and effect. one must also remember that the endocannabinoids in the brain are specifically tuned and regulated at each site they work on. when smoking cannabis, the cannabinoids are subjected to every area of the brain at once. Im not sure if this is taken into account when people consider these issues of using external analogues of neurochemicals. 
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Comment #3 posted by E_Johnson on August 01, 2002 at 13:00:28 PT
Dr. Ethan you're spot on
People whose job it is to try to find out why some people are more vulnerable to PTSD than others must be really excited now.This gives them a definite avenue to search down.And also why are some people more subject to autoimmune disorders than others and why do women traumatized by child sexual abuse seem to be so vulerable to them?And then let's talk about race. Black Americans are known to have more inflammatory problems than white Americans. Oh surprise they're also the main recipients of jail for marijuana.Black women have very high levels of PTSD and of autoimmune disorders, far higher than white women. I saw a survey that said that one out of every four young black males in America is suffering from diagnosable chronic PTSD. How much of that is from the Drug War -- the ironic situation of creating a condition where people end up needing weed and then throwing them in jail for it and furthering those same conditions so that they need more weed...I'll bet Snoop Dogg would be diagnosable with PTSD if you took his weed away. He grew up in a rough place, people he knew getting killed, that will do it.The Drug War is why one out of every four young blacks males in America has diagnosable chronic PTSD.This is the Revolution, thanks to German science and its independence from the American insanity.(PS that one out of four number could be one out of three or something, I forgot the precise number but it's in that ballpark.)
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Comment #2 posted by Ethan Russo MD on August 01, 2002 at 08:42:54 PT:
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. 
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Comment #1 posted by TroutMask on August 01, 2002 at 08:10:35 PT
Another nail in the anti coffin
"The findings add to the mounting evidence that marijuana, an illegal drug, may have widespread medical benefits."poor, poor antis...-TM
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