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French scientists find blocker to cannabis high as potential path to preventing addiction

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Un plant de cannabis prêt à être coupé pour être consommé au Botanacare, à Northglenn dans le Colorado. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

A group of French scientists have found a way to blunt the high of marijuana that could potentially prevent cannabis addiction.


The researchers said on Thursday in the journal Science that they found a naturally occurring hormone in the brain that acts as a spontaneous break against the reactions – or high – caused by marijuana’s key intoxicant tetrahydrocannabinol - or THC.

Studying "high" rats and mice, the scientists found that the steroid hormone pregnenolone dampened the activity of a brain molecule called the type-1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1).

“If your [brain] is exposed to very high levels of marijuana this natural mechanism is triggered and protects you from cannabis exposure,” said lead author Pier Vincenzo Piazza of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) to RFI.

What this means is that the hormone naturally occuring in one's brain – previously thought to be an inactive precursor to other steroids – could cancel out the effects of being “high” from marijuana when the hormone becomes active or overactive, according to Piazza.

As the rodents felt the effects of THC, their pregnenolone levels skyrocketed by 1,500 per cent and in turn, blocked the effects of THC on the brain.

Piazza and his team, who have been studying this for the past nine years, then looked into what exactly was blocked.

“The high, the loss of memory, the sedative effect, but also the relaxation of pain or the induction of eating,” said Piazza. “So this hormone blocked either the bad or the good effect of THC.”

The aim was not to be a “buzzkill” as noted in the journal Science, but rather to discover possible avenues to treating marijuana intoxication and addiction, the study said.

About 147 million people globally (roughly 2.5 percent of the population) use cannabis, according to the World Health Organization.

While marijuana use can relieve symptoms of depression, glaucoma, spasms and the nausea associated with cancer and AIDS treatment, it can also impair brain development, memory and lung function.

The researchers hope to start clinical trials of a derivative of the hormone in 18 months that could lead to therapeutic use in the future.

Piazza says a compound form could be on the market in tablet form from five to six years from now.