Friday, October 14, 2005

Depression: Synthetic Marijuana Grows Brain Cells in Rats and Treats Depression

You're going to be hearing about this one all day long. Don't just read the headlines, though. Dig deeper. Nobody in the tests cited grew brain cells by toking up. In fact, nobody human was involved with these tests. The test subjects were rats. The marijuana involved was actually a synthetic cannabinoid injected into the rats bloodstreams. The researchers stated caution on two fronts: 1) that there is a difference between rat brains and human brains - meaning they didn't know if the results would be the same, and 2) it is unknown if smoking marijuana will have the same effect (my guess - NOT). The Forbes article I linked above is excellent, as is this FoxNews link here.

Now that I've told you the bad news, the good news is that the researchers discovered
"a super-potent synthetic version of the cannabinoid compound found in marijuana can reduce depression and anxiety when taken over an extended period of time."
They determined this not because the rats were laughing at stupid puns and examining their hands, but because of observed behavior to tests that introduced anxiety. I'm still skeptical of their observations, though. How does a human really know if a rat is not depressed? All of this is theoretical, of course, since we have no idea how the findings apply to human physiology and neurology. There could be many side-effects, and we don't know if the results will be the same for humans.

The study is a fascinating one, however. The researchers also discovered that new neurons had been generated and integrated into the treated rats' brains. This seems to be a promising development and the most exciting one for me. Experiments will have to be conducted on higher forms of life and then, ultimately, humans to be sure, but proper brain cell growth can potentially help repair many neurological problems.

I foresee two problems. First, they'll need to be able to massproduce the synthoid without marijuana plants. Otherwise, this development will stall. The abuse of marijuana as a recreational drug causes too much criminal activity to have Federal regulations lifted - as shown by the recent decision by the Supreme Court. Second, they have to autopsy the poor critters to determine whether there's been neuron growth. I realize that the radio is filled with very exciting offers by local university's to pay people peanuts to be guinea pigs for new medications. However, I have a hard time believing they'll get anybody to line up to have synthetic marijuana shots if brain surgery is involved.