The pleasurable effect of cannabis has been widely demonstrated in many anecdotal and formal records but further research into how exactly the psychoactive substance affects the brain on the cellular level remains largely unknown.
This became the focus of a study conducted by researcher and neuroscientist Jeff Edwards and colleagues at the Brigham Young University. An unlikely place for marijuana research given the university’s affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Edwards said there was no hindrance to his research at all.
What is known
Taking cannabis has already been shown to activate the same reward pathway that results to addictive behavior but it’s yet to be shown how brain cells in that pathway might modulate it.
When an individual takes drugs such as cannabis, brain cells are activated to produce dopamine, a chemical associated with the feeling of pleasure.
The study focused on the brain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA), particularly at a cell called GABA and a neurotransmitter it releases by the same name to look at how it changed as the teen mice they studied received daily THC injections every day for a week.
When GABA is released in the brain, it regulates dopamine and acts as a stopper to make sure the merrymaking doesn’t go overboard.
But as the research progressed, continued injections of THC caused GABA inhibitions to falter for mice who received cannabis week-long. Meanwhile, those who only received single injections didn’t show any changes in their GABA neurons, suggesting that the effects seen in the chronic users are a consequence of long-term marijuana use.
The study offers tremendous implications to help individuals with cannabis use disorder.
You can read the full version of the paper in the journal JNeurosci.