Why does marijuana cause one person to experience a pleasurable high, and another to experience paralyzing paranoia?
Marijuana has been shown to have both anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects and to induce anxiety and psychosis in certain people. In schizophrenics, it can increase symptoms, and in healthy people it can increase the risk of schizophrenia. Now, new study shows that the two active ingredients in cannabis, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) may have quite opposite effects on the brain – and behavior – and could explain why pot’s effects can be unpredictable.
Researchers at Western University in Ontario conducted a study to determine why marijuana can make one person happy while another paranoid. The study, published in Scientific Reports, was conducted using rats to view the varying psychological reactions to marijuana.
The researchers noted that the type of impairment or reaction depends partly on which part of the brain is the most sensitive to THC, according to Huff Post. If the front part of the brain is the most sensitive, the effects can be described as happy, pleasurable, rewarding and joy. Should the back portion of the brain be more sensitive feelings of paranoia, fear and anxiety can arise.
Researcher Steven R. Laviolette, PhD. said, “It’s a very new finding. Once we figure out what molecular pathways are causing those effects in different areas, then in the long-term we can work on modulating THC formulations so they don’t activate those specific pathways. That’s the really long-term goal of what we’re trying to do here.”
Lavoilette also said, “There is not too much known about why there are such differences in response to THC. We know a lot about the long-term and short-term effects…But there is very little known about the specific areas in the brain that are responsible for independently controlling those effects.”
Using rats, the study found evidence that psychological reactions to weed depend on which part of an individual’s brain is most sensitive to THC. If it’s the anterior (front) part of the brain, consuming marijuana will produce rewarding effects (i.e. feelings of ease, reduced anxiety, and joy). If it’s the posterior (back) region that’s most sensitive to THC, it will produce negative reactions (i.e. paranoia and fear).
The work is a departure from earlier attempts to explain the different psychological reactions, including a 2014 study from Oxford, which suggests that traits such as low self-esteem play a role. Norris and Laviolette’s study suggests instead that the reaction is beyond an individual’s control — and could be based more on genetics. For those who experience a bad reaction, this may be good news.
The next step for Laviolette and his colleagues is to attempt to replicate the results in the human brain, which will be no easy task. They want to determine if similar results will be seen in human brains.
“Be aware that we’re starting to unravel some of the more intricate details of how cannabis is affecting the brain,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Monitor your use and if you’re experiencing negative side effects, talk to your physician.”
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