Cannabis is spreading quickly across the US, and as it does, many scientists are also exploring its potential benefits and pitfalls. When it comes to the latter, results are reassuringly sparse, but a new study shows that dopamine production in adolescent mice is affected by the repeated use of THC.
The debates around cannabis can get heated, especially as its medical usages are far more than anecdotally backed. The children are always a factor, though, and parents to police officers to scientists want to know: what does cannabis do to young brains?
Researcher Dr. Jeffrey Edwards from Brigham Young University spoke with Medical News Today about the new findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, on dopamine, GABA cells, THC and the developing brain.
Dr. Edwards and other researchers injected juvenile and adolescent mice with THC, marijuana’s superstar cannabinoid, to see how it impacted the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of their brains. The VTA has everything to do with rewards and contains both dopamine and GABA cells, which normally hinder VTA dopamine cells.
“Dopamine cell increased activity is thought to mediate reward,” said Dr. Edwards. “Thus, if these VTA inhibitory cells alter their activity it would alter the activity of the nearby dopamine cells and thus alter reward.
“The interesting part,” he added, “was that the receptor mediating this plasticity was CB1.” CB1 refers to the ‘cannabinoid receptor type 1,’ which becomes activated by plant-derived cannabinoids – like THC from cannabis.
Dr. Edwards also pointed out that it was important to take the ages of the mice into consideration, as, “adolescent humans have worse THC-induced outcomes compared to adults.”
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He went on to stipulate that adolescents that use THC may have lower IQs, decreased cognition and a higher chance of addiction as adults.
The next project for Dr. Edwards and team will be to see if THC has the same effects on the VTA of adult brains for comparison. No matter the results, nothing can take away from the massive medical usage of THC and other cannabinoids, even when administered to an adolescent who otherwise experiences multiple seizures or who battles debilitating anxiety.