Marijuana Might Reduce Dopamine Levels Study Says

Summary and opinion by Wendy Anderson

A new study is showing that heavy, long-term cannabis use might affect the dopamine system. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for movement, emotion and memory. A depletion of dopamine being produced in the body can lead to Parkinson’s disease.

The team of researchers are trying to figure out if cannabis has the same effects on the dopamine levels as heavy use of harder drugs which have been tested and show definitely to lower the dopamine release.

The researchers studied 11 adults aged 21-40 who used cannabis heavily everyday. They all had started using by the age 16, had become dependent by the age of 20, and had been dependent for around 7 years. Then they matched the adults with a control group of 12 non-cannabis users. Almost all of the participants in the study smoked cannabis daily during the month leading up to the study.

The groups were monitored using positron emission tomography (PET) scans which tracked a radiotracing molecule that binds to the dopamine receptors. They were able to track readings from the areas of the brain such as: the striatum, thalamus, midbrain, and the globus pallidus.

The participants were given oral amphetamines both before and after their brains were scanned to draw out dopamine release.

Their findings were that compared with the control group the cannabis users did have lower release of dopamine in the striatum and globus pallidus. They do state that they do not know whether the decreased dopamine was pre-existing or due to cannabis use.

My Opinion: These studies need to be done, however they need to be more well rounded. It seems like this study was heavily steered to make cannabis look the same as cocaine and heroine, which it is not. Here is a question that needs to be posed- if cannabis is so bad for the dopamine system, then why do people with Parkinson’s and Tourette’s syndromes find relief from cannabis? I hope they keep these tests up and I hope that they keep it ethical and unbiased. Cannabis does a lot of good for people and if we figure out the appropriate dosing, how much is too much and too little, then we can advance this plant so much farther. 

Read the original article here.

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