Experts look to expand medical marijuana scope

Cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating compound, has few side-effects and could be used to treat anxiety and depression

The presence of key chemical compounds in medical marijuana could offer possible treatments for pain, inflammation and mental health disorders.

“Some of the questions we have in the medical community is how can we make cannabis safer and more therapeutically effective,” said Steve Laviolette of Western University’s School of Medicine.

The chemical makeup of cannabis is extraordinarily complex and many of the phytochemicals have not been identified, he told the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance’s annual meeting held in Calgary Nov. 17-19.

It is known that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound, appears to have a wider scope of medical applications than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Industrial hemp has more CBD than THC.

As well, companies are seeking approval to promote hemp oil as a beneficial food.

“Hemp and its extracts can be consumed safely in large amounts,” said Paul Benhaim of Elixinol, which makes products from hemp with an emphasis on promoting the health benefits of food made from hemp oil.

He said CDB is not a miracle cure but there are health benefits when combined with other compounds in hemp. Laviolette said laboratory research on rats has shown CBD has anti-anxiety and sedative properties.

Rats are used in these early trials because their brains are anatomically close to humans , including similar neural pathways.

It appears CBD can block some components in the brain and activate serotonin, which is associated with drugs such as Prozac. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that is believed to act as a mood stabilizer.

Researchers are just starting to explore what CBD can do, but it might be used as a potential treatment for anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress syndrome and addiction.

“CBD is really going to be the future of the pharmacological efficacy of medical marijuana,” he said.

THC, on the other hand, is found in higher levels in marijuana and has a major psychoactive component causing paranoia and in-creased risk of schizophrenia in some people.

However, it also has some valuable therapeutic properties.

Researchers theorize that schizophrenia is caused by a hyperactive dopamine system. Dopamine is considered the pleasure pathway in the brain.

Cannabidiol seems to block the hyper-dopamine state and alleviates schizophrenia symptoms. It also has fewer side effects compared to some other medications.

“Keep in mind this was only done on 12 patients,” Laviolette said.

However, further international research is showing promising effects in treating panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety and agoraphobia.

“Anti-anxiety medications are the single most abused drug in North America,” he said.

“People become dependent on anti-anxiety medication. It is a very serious problem. We need to develop drugs that are safer, and CBD could really fit that bill,.”

PTSD is becoming more common, and one in 10 Canadians may have some form at some point in their lives. It is often seen among soldiers, police, firefighters, front line responders and victims of serious crimes or accidents.

It is debilitating and there are no effective pharmacological treatments.

CBD seems to block traumatic memory formation by going through the serotonin system rather than the dopamine pathway, which is what THC does.

Using CBD to treat addiction is also being explored.

“Almost all drugs of abuse activates dopamine activity in the brain,” Laviolette said.

Researchers want to learn if CBD could provide a substitute for the rewarding effects of drugs such as heroin, morphine and nicotine.

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