Study Shows THC May Protect Brain From Meth Abuse

By John Lavitt 06/27/14

THC can reduce the amount of brain inflammation caused by meth overloading proteins.

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Researchers at the University of Cagliari in Italy released the results of a new animal study that demonstrated how THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can potentially protect part of the brain from the damage caused by methamphetamine abuse.

Despite its neurotoxic properties, the wide availability and low cost of meth make it the most popular drug of the amphetamine-type stimulant business, accounting for 71% of global amphetamine-type seizures in 2011. As a result, the significant damage caused by meth to mental faculties has been a worldwide problem.

In the study, mice who were given the two drugs in the study experienced less brain damage than expected. Methamphetamine damages the brain by stimulating neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP) production. When overloaded, these proteins can cause grey matter to become inflamed. Meth also boosts the production of peroxynitrites, reactive molecules that damage DNA, and stimulates microglia, which eat dead cells, or live ones when meth is taken; heavy meth use results directly in brain cells being convinced the best path to take is a kind of self-cannibalism.

Although smoking pot will not stop the brain from eating itself, THC seems to reduce the amount of brain inflammation. THC insulates the brain and significantly reduces swelling. "In the present study, we showed that THC, the principal constituent of cannabis, attenuates the neurotoxic effect of meth by reducing two markers of neuronal damage," the researchers said. "A neuroprotective effect of cannabinoid was likely mediated, at least in part, by their anti-inflammatory properties."

Despite being claimed as scientific proof by the Italian research team at the University of Cagliari, the study was on a small-scale and animal-based. Although the results are impressive for a pre-clinical trial with mice, they remain tentative at best. For the proof that would lead to medical marijuana being prescribed to crystal meth addicts, human trials would be an obvious necessity.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.