Treating cannabis “problems” with cannabis
Posted by Dave Bath on 2010-01-27
By the look of a recent paper in Nature Neuropsychopharmacology, the problems of psychosis caused (in the small number of people that are susceptible) by smoking too much cannabis could possibly be cured by…. smoking cannabis! It’s the strain that makes the difference, suggesting that a "government approved labelling standard" and a different legal status for each strain might be worthwhile – or even that the government should give away seeds from good strains!
There are two major cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa, Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), both of which are psychoactive (especially for medicinal purposes like painkilling), but with THC being the most intoxicating.
It seems that for those few that can be pushed towards or into psychosis by pot smoking, it’s the THC that causes the problems, while CBD not only doesn’t cause the problem, but protects against at least some the dangers of THC.
This might well tie in with the newer strains of cannabis, "skunk", that have much higher levels of THC and lower levels of CBD, probably by a skewing of the metabolic pathways away from CBD in favor of THC rather than simply increasing the amount of THC produced by upping activity of the pathways leading to both.
New Scientist in "It’s the lack of balance that makes skunk cannabis do harm" (2010-01-26) takes the Nature Neuropsychopharmacology results, and ties them in with other studies showing that it is the strain of cannabis smokers use that affects their chances of developing psychoses.
"Opposite Effects of Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol on Human Brain Function and Psychopathology" in Neuropsychopharmacology (2010) 35, 764–774 (doi:10.1038/npp.2009.184) from the Nature Group reports a few interesting results:
- THC and CBD had opposite effects in a number of brain areas, but most relevant for psychoses, in the amygdala when subjects viewed fearful faces, but also in other areas involving visual processing and response time.
- In another experiment, pretreatment with CBD prevent the acute induction of psychotic symptoms by THC.
So, now all those studies on cannabis and psychological disturbances need to be given another look, and take this new information into account, because they are pretty much the same as studies of drinks-that-get-you-pissed would be if they didn’t differentiate between methanol and ethanol.
But there is one important implication if you follow the same logic of harm minimization that supports free provision of needles: have government mandated strains that are legal, with lots of CBD, and those that are illegal, with relatively little CBD.
Giving away the seeds (or having government-certified packs you could buy in chemists, perhaps, properly taxed) for "good" strains might even protect or ameliorate the symptoms of some people who don’t smoke pot… and it would certainly be useful for those at risk of heart disease (remembering couch-bound bongheads with little exercise have poor blood lipid profiles), because CBD at least was found to improve the profile of lipids in the blood, reduce the hardening of arteries and prevent scarring of the heart following a heart attack.
And of course… this would make life much easier for patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, spasticities, epilepsy, etc, etc, (see the list, which includes even bi-polar disorders here). A legal and effective adjunct to my therapy (see this from Epilepsy Ontario where Ontario Superior Court Judge Sidney Lederman declared prohibition of medical marijuana for seizures unconstitutional) to titre on bad days on top of my rather toxic anticonvulsants, or perhaps allow me to gradually lower my dependence on drugs that cost the taxpayer money and have nasty side effects? Only a big-spending evidence-rejecting sadist or big-pharma executive would try and block that!
So… even if they don’t want to provide the seeds to get the community using "good" cannabis, which as noted looks like it might also be less dangerous for drivers, why shouldn’t the government be consistent with the way they have different rules for different formulations of paracetamol and codeine (mainly paracetamol and a little codeine is available in supermarkets, lots of codeine compared to paracetamol means a trip to the pharmacist), by having a different set of regulations governing formulations of CBD and THC?