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Study Shows Marijuana Promotes Neuron Growth
Drug could be used as treatment for depression, say Canadian researchers
Matthias Erlandsen Lorca (merlandsen)     Print Article 
Published 2005-10-17 14:56 (KST)   
A wealth of research shows marijuana could make one infertile and even kill brain cells. But a new study by the Neuropsychiatry Research Unit at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, suggests the drug could have some benefits when administered regularly in a highly potent form.

Most "social drugs" such as alcohol, heroin, cocaine and nicotine suppress growth of new brain cells. However, researchers found that cannabinoids promoted generation of new neurons in rats' hippocampuses, or the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The study held true for either plant-derived or the synthetic versions of cannabinoids.

Dr. Xia Zhang, an associate professor in the University of Saskatchewan Neuropsychiatry Research Unit, led the team that tested the effects of HU-210, a potent synthetic cannabinoid similar to a group of compounds found in marijuana. The synthetic version is about 100 times as powerful as THC, the compound responsible for the high experienced by recreational users.

Other studies say depression could be suppressed when brain cells mature in the hippocampus brain area, hinting at marijuana possibly being using as someday as treatment. It is unclear whether anxiety is part of this process, but if true, HU-210 could offer a treatment for both mood disorders by stimulating the growth of new brain cells.

The research will be published in the November issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, but their findings are online now.

People's Opinions

Just after this research appeared, Professor Robin Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry of the United Kingdom in an interview with BBC News, questioned whether the anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects seen in the animals would be replicated in humans: "This is a very big leap of faith as they have no data on humans, and the supposed animals' models of anxiety and depression that they use don't have much in common with the human conditions."

Paul Corry, director of communications at the largest severe mental illness charity in the United Kingdom known as Rethink, said, "Cannabinoids are an exciting new area for medical research, but it is important to recognize that there are over 60 active ingredients in cannabis -- synthetic cannabinoid may be showing evidence of nerve regeneration. All medical research needs to be checked before it would make a difference to the hundreds of thousands of people living with severe mental illness in the U.K."

Dr. Perry G. Fine, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine Pain Research Center, confirms medical marijuana's potential benefits.

"It's just proving what's been long-suspected. I think most people with clinical expertise in the area of palliative medicine know that if patients had access to all the tools we currently have, we could certainly do a whole lot better to help people living with multiple chronic diseases," he said.

Marijuana Use in Other Places

This new research may be used to argue against a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June granting federal authorities the power to stop doctors prescribing marijuana as a treatment for personal or public use. The decision overrides laws currently on the books in 11 states which had legalized the use of marijuana for patients receiving a doctor's approval.

The Dutch are taking an opposite approach from the Americans. Netherlands' government believes it's better to try controlling drug use, rather than making new laws to stop the consumers. Their policy recognizes drug use as a public health issue, not a criminal matter. And a distinction between hard drugs (cocaine, heroin and ecstasy) and soft drugs (psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms as well as cannabis products: hashish and marijuana) is clearly made.

The policy has caused friction between the Netherlands and other countries, most notably with France and Germany. In 2004, Belgium moved toward the Dutch model and a few German legislators called for trail runs of the Dutch model. Switzerland has had long and heated parliamentary debates about whether to follow the Dutch model, but finally decided against it in 2004. In Portugal, drugs from cannabis products (fibers and seeds) are legal.

Several countries have either carried out or lobbied for capital punishment for those who use or traffic cannabis, mainly in East Asia, such as Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, China and Taiwan.
The original paper, in PDF, can be found here.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Matthias Erlandsen Lorca

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