This Is Your Brain on Pot ... No, Really

This is not just a pipe dream: The brain apparently does make its own marijuana.
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Researchers in the United States and Brazil have discovered that the brain makes proteins that act like marijuana at specific receptors.

No, this is not just a pipe dream: The brain apparently does make its own marijuana.

"Ideally, this development will lead to drugs that bind to and activate the THC receptor, but are devoid of the side effects that limit the usefulness of marijuana," said senior researcher Lakshmi A. Devi of the department of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York in a press release announcing the study. "It would be helpful to have a drug that activated or blocked the THC receptor, and our findings raise the possibility that this will lead to effective drugs with fewer side effects."

Scientists made the discovery, published online in TheFASEB Journal, by extracting several small proteins, called peptides, from the brains of mice. Once the proteins' amino acid sequence was determined, they were compared with another peptide that was known to bind to — but not activate — the THC receptor in the brain that is affected by marijuana. Several of the extracted proteins not only bound to the brain's THC receptors, but activated them, too.

The researchers are hopeful their discovery will lead to new drugs that mimic marijuana and some of its recognized benefits, including pain management and appetite stimulation. They also expect their findings could help in cannabis-abuse prevention efforts.

Added Dr. Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal: "Last year, scientists found that our skin makes its own marijuana-like substance. Now, we see that our brain has been making proteins that act directly on the marijuana receptors in our head. The next step is for scientists to come up with new medicines that eliminate the nasty side of pot-a better joint, so to speak."

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