Chemical in marijuana shows promise in treating schizophrenia

According to new research at Western University, marijuana is the ultimate contradiction; at least when it comes to schizophrenia.

This first-of-its-kind study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrates that a chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol, or CBD, affects the brain in a way that makes it an ideal treatment option for schizophrenia. This research comes just months after the same lab found that adolescent exposure to THC, the other major compound found in marijuana, may lead to the onset of schizophrenia in adulthood.

“CBD is acting in a way that is the exact opposite to what THC is doing,” said Steven Laviolette, PhD, associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.  “Within the same plant, you’ve got two different chemicals that are producing opposite effects in terms of psychiatric effects, molecular signaling and effects on the dopamine pathway.”

Using pre-clinical models in rodents, Laviolette and his team, led by postdoctoral fellow Justine Renard, PhD, showed that CBD can normalize schizophrenia-like disturbances in the brain’s dopamine system. By doing so, CBD alleviates schizophrenia-related symptoms linked to abnormal dopamine activity such as psychosis and cognitive problems. The researchers also demonstrated that the chemical is bypassing the molecular pathway in the brain that causes the negative side-effects typically seen in traditional antipsychotic medications.

“One of the biggest problems in treating schizophrenia is that there hasn’t been an effective new treatment on the market in a very long time,” said Laviolette. “The drugs on the market today have limited efficacy and horrible side effects; there is a desperate need for safer alternative medications.”

While CBD has shown promise as a treatment for schizophrenia in previous studies, this research is the first to show exactly how it acts on the brain to have positive results in mitigating psychiatric symptoms without causing the fatigue, lack of motivation and other side-effects associated with traditional medications.

“When we measured the molecular changes that happened in the brain, we found that the effects of CBD were bypassing traditional molecular pathways that are activated by antipsychotic drugs. We think that’s one of the reasons that it has better tolerability and fewer side-effects,” he said.

Researchers are available to conduct interviews in both English and French

MEDIA CONTACT: Crystal Mackay, Media Relations Officer, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, t. 519.661.2111 ext. 80387, crystal.mackay@schulich.uwo.ca

ABOUT WESTERN

Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

ABOUT THE SCHULICH SCHOOL OF MEDICINE & DENTISTRY

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.

Downloadable Media

Images

Laviolette_Renard2016