A recent study from Tel Aviv University, published in Human Molecular Genetics, found that cannabis could trigger schizophrenia in adolescents already susceptible to the disorder. This is not a new finding. However, the researchers think they may have found a way to protect against cannabis-induced schizophrenia.
Prof. Dani Offen led the research conducted by Dr. Ran Barzilay. They found that smoking cannabis, or using it in other ways, might spark schizophrenia if there is a history of the disorder in the family of the individual. Medical Xpress covered the findings.
Dr. Barzilay, principal investigator, says the research demonstrates a distinct risk of schizophrenia for vulnerable versus non-vulnerable adolescents. If youngsters have a genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia, they should be aware that using THC is like playing with fire.
The research was done on mice models using mice that are genetically susceptible to schizophrenia. The DISC-1 gene is a mutation that causes susceptibility to schizophrenia after using THC. The susceptible mice were found to be at high risk at a time comparable to that of human adolescence.
The experiment consisted of four groups of mice. First, those genetically susceptible and exposed to cannabis, secondly those not exposed to cannabis, but genetically susceptible. Thirdly, certain mice were exposed to cannabis, but were not genetically susceptible, and lastly, there was a group that was not exposed to cannabis, or genetically susceptible.
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Genetically susceptible mice
Behavioral tests and neurological analysis of the biochemistry of the mice revealed that only those that were genetically susceptible to schizophrenia developed associated brain pathologies when exposed to cannabis.
The researchers claim that even though they used mice for their study, it closely mimics the first episode of schizophrenia’s clinical presentation when adolescents use a lot of cannabis.
BDNF protects the adolescent brain
The research revealed the mechanism of how cannabis interacts with the gene implicated in schizophrenia. It discovered a protective mechanism in non-susceptible mice. Prof. Offen found that the mechanism involves BDNF, a protective neurotrophic factor in the hippocampus. If BDNF was artificially given to the genetically susceptible mice, they would be protected from the harmful effects of the THC on the adolescent brain.
Caution those at risk
Prof. Offen concluded that the research could have positive public health implications in the future, as the protective mechanism can show how to develop compounds to reduce the harmful effects of cannabis on brain development. Until this can be done, adolescents at risk of mental disorders because of family history, or reacting strongly to drugs should be cautious of cannabis during adolescence.
Could BDNF Allow More Adolescents to use Medical Cannabis?
As medical cannabis shows it’s worth in growing numbers of clinical trials, the specter of schizophrenia looms large. This is particularly true in children and adolescents, where doctors worry about brain development changes. Some even worry that non-psychoactive CBD, believed to counteract THC, may have consequences.
BDNF may be the answer that will allow doctors to prescribe THC-rich medical cannabis to teens in future. However, we shouldn’t expect it to be available any time soon. No matter how sure scientists are about their mice, proof from clinical trials will be the deciding factor.
Naturally, this type of research would raise serious ethical questions, so for now, CBD seems to be among the non-psychoactive, safe cannabinoids for kids. Since there isn’t much research on the other cannabinoids to date, CBD seems to the only real solution.