Marijuana In Detail "Marijuana causes long-term changes in the brain similar to those seen with other drugs of abuse . . ." Back in the 1970s, animal experiments led to groundless fears that marijuana blew holes in brain tissue. The experiments organisations like NIDA now fund are more sophisticated but the controversy still rages. George Koob, an addiction researcher from The Scripps Research
Institute in La Jolla, California, claims the new message from the animals is simple: "The more we discover about the neurobiology of addiction the more common elements we're seeing between THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active ingredient in cannabis) and other drugs of abuse." And for Koob, one of these newly discovered "common elements" is marijauna's ability to trigger chemical changes in the brain that lead to strong withdrawal symptoms.
In humans, some researchers claim to see clear evidence of insomnia, anxiety and even flu-like symptoms in heavy cannabis users who abstain.
But if there's a consensus, it's that symptoms are mild and variable. By contrast, Koob's rats are shivering wrecks. Does this mean marijuana is more addictive than we think?
Not a bit of it, says Roger Pertwee, a university pharmacologist and president of the Cannabinoid Research Society. That's because those symptoms aren't so much observed as manufactured. The animals are injected with high doses of THC, then injected with a second chemical to block cannabis receptors in the brain.
Without the block, the sharp withdrawal symptoms can't be seen because cannabis clears so slowly that even heavily doped rats are likely to experience a gentle wind down. Another debate rages over animal studies into the short-term effects of marijuana on brain chemistry. Heroin, cocaine, alcohol and nicotine all trigger a surge in the chemical dopamine in a small midbrain structure called the nucleus accumbens. Many researchers...