Get Off the Pot

Researchers demonstrate the successful treatment of marijuana abuse in rats and monkeys.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Oct 15, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, ILDAR SAGDEJEVA drug that increases levels of a naturally occurring chemical may help marijuana users kick the habit, according to new research published this week (October 13) in Nature Neuroscience. In rats, the drug, called Ro 61-8048, boosted brain levels of kynurenic acid dosed with THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, which subsequently diminished dopamine-driven neural activity associated with pleasure. In monkeys, the same treatment reduced voluntary use of THC by 80 percent.

“The really interesting finding is that when we looked at behavior, simply increasing kynurenic acid levels totally blocked the abuse potential and the chance of relapse,” coauthor Robert Schwarcz, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, told Smithsonian.com. “It’s a totally new approach to affecting THC function.”

Though marijuana may not have serious long-term consequences, and may even hold potential in treating various medical maladies, it is commonly used as a recreational drug,...

Indeed, dosing rats with Ro 61-8048 caused kynurenic acid levels to rise, after which THC no longer elicited the dopamine-driven brain activity in the reward centers of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens. It seemed that kynurenic acid was literally blocking the brain’s dopamine receptors, thereby decreasing the pleasurable feelings normally elicited by THC. As a result of the treatment, both rats and monkeys with the ability to self-dose with THC reduced their drug intake by about 80 percent.

“Currently, we’re doing some experiments with nicotine abuse, and there’s some very interesting preliminary data indicating it may work the same way,” Schwarcz told Smithsonian.com.

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Get Off the Pot

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