Throughout history, cannabis has been described as a treatment for hundreds of different conditions. If scientists find it hard to believe cannabis can do so much, they may chalk up the results as just a placebo. But the placebo effect is powerful. It accounts for roughly half of the efficacy of opioids and antidepressants. And, ironically, the placebo effect actually functions in part through the endocannabinoid system.
Addiction & Alcoholism
Cannabinoids play a diverse role in addiction. They confer some of the euphoric feelings of many drugs, but also help eliminate memories that trigger cravings. The also regulate dopamine in a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Normally, dopamine release in the VTA helps orient animals, including humans, to new kinds of stimuli.
Although it may not be obvious during these Trump-rattled times, we’re in the midst of a psychedelic revival. There is more interest than ever before in experimenting with LSD, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, ketamine, and other psychedelic drugs.
Heavy or even moderate drinking causes maladaptions in humans, ranging from cardiovascular disease to cirrhosis. Underlying many of these ill effects is alcohol’s ability to amplify inflammation. But the immune system is immensely complex, and “inflammation” is a catch-all term that accounts for most degenerative and age-related disease, so it is important to distinguish the specific molecules promoting inflammation. Interleukins are a class of proteins that orchestrate the movement of immune cells – most, but not all, increase inflammation.
The gateway theory of addiction is a slippery slope fallacy. It argues that when people are introduced to mild drugs like cannabis, they later escalate to dangerous drugs like amphetamines and opioids. In the era of reefer madness, this was an excuse to demonize cannabis by associating it with lethal drugs. Although the theory is wrong, there are a few real aspects of addiction it captures. Opioids are devastating in part because of tolerance and sensitization. When the body is exposed to opioids, it tones down endogenous opiate activity however it can.
The endocannabinoid system is fundamental to addiction, but not in obvious ways. All sorts of cannabinoids appear to have anti-addictive properties: CBD, THCV, Rimonabant, THC. But Rimonabant acts by blocking the CB1 receptor, THC activates it, and CBD primarily functions in other ways.
“History often cycles its errors.” – Stephen J. Gould
Alex Berenson, a science fiction author and former New York Times reporter, has written a book that would make Harry Anslinger blush. Anslinger, of course, was the longtime Federal Bureau of Narcotics director who waged a salacious, racially-charged sleaze campaign against marijuana, “the devil’s weed” that turned people into psychotic killers.
An unfortunate slogan of the cannabis legalization movement has been “Regulate cannabis like alcohol.” But cannabis, unlike alcohol, is not associated with domestic violence, sexual assault, liver toxicity, cancers, neurodegeneration, and the list goes on. Cannabinoids can, in fact, attenuate many of these issues, as described in a recent review. A group of Canadian scientists systematically reviewed publications about CBD as a drug for people abusing alcohol.
Little needs to be said about the devastating impact methamphetamine abuse can have. It is a highly addictive substance whose use can lead to transient psychotic behavior and long-term cognitive problems. As part of an Iranian researcher’s PhD thesis, two scientists demonstrate that CBD can reduce the likelihood of methamphetamine relapse, even while one deals with stresses like sleep deprivation. This is particularly important because drug withdrawal often causes temporary insomnia, yet many of the medications that induce sleep are highly addictive.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) leads to numerous problems, including alcoholism and suicide. New findings indicate that endocannabinoids aid TBI recovery: When researchers boosted 2-AG levels shortly after injury, rats displayed less anxiety and less interest in alcohol. This is significant since alcoholism is a serious comorbidity of brain injury.