More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Brain creates pot-like chemicals
September 16, 2004
San Jose Mercury News

Mother Nature created a way to "tune in, turn on" long before pot-smokers rolled their first joint, Stanford scientists have found.

Eavesdropping on the conversations between brain cells, the research team found that neurons make their own marijuana-like chemicals called cannabinoids, which indirectly alter the way information is received and filtered.

When the chemicals are released, "neurons have a harder time deciding which are the relevant things to pay attention to," said investigator John R. Huguenard, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

For a long time, scientists thought that marijuana altered the mind in a messy and random way that didn't involve any particular part of brain chemistry.

Now they've identified an elegant modus operandi. It adds to a growing body of research that explains the mechanism behind getting "high." Marijuana mimics the cannabinoids made naturally by our brain -- chemicals that influence a smorgasbord of body functions including movement, thought and perception.

The research sheds light on a powerful neurochemical system. Researchers hope that when they understand the job the chemical does in the day-to-day running of our bodies, they can design new therapeutic drugs.

In their Stanford lab, Huguenard and colleagues David Prince and Alberto Bacci injected electric current into rat brain cells, then watched the chatter between the brain's two major types of cells.

When overly excited, one type of neuron releases cannabinoids, which create a calming effect, they found. In effect, the brain cell drugs itself.

But this mellowed-out cell falls down on its job, which is to filter the flow of information rushing into a second type of cell.

Without a good filter, the researchers think, this second neuron is flooded with sensory information that affects memory, perception, mood and movement.

Marijuana similar
Something very similar happens with marijuana use, the scientists believe.

In an accident of nature and chemistry, the compounds in pot are shaped similarly and trigger similar effects.

"Marijuana use . . . affects the way we think," said Huguenard. The new research shows that "part of that is because of changes in the way our brain cells receive incoming information, like sensory information or memories or emotion."

Because so much information is always flowing into the brain, "each neuron has to make a decision based on the signals it gets," he said. "They have to make sense of it . . . and decide what's relevant."

"Marijuana loosens a natural filter that exists in neurons, so they tend to be flooded with information," Huguenard said.

Long overdue
The research is published in today's issue of the journal Nature.

"This type of research is so long overdue," said Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University School of Law professor who represents the Santa Cruz-based Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana. "When Congress classified marijuana as a controlled substance, the idea was that, `We don't know enough about it.' There are many new studies that are very exciting, showing the myriad of possibilities, and that medical marijuana has great potential."

What prompts a brain cell to release a cannabinoid? Pain, perhaps? Or some other sensation? The Stanford team doesn't know yet, but one possibility is that it seeks to calm the high level of nervous system activity that occurs during epileptic seizures.

There remains much to be learned about the mechanisms that control brain circuitry, Huguenard said. Further research will illuminate the role that cannabinoids play in the normal brain -- and how they can be exploited to control pain, seizures or appetite.

It may prove possible to tailor therapies by blocking or activating production of particular cannabinoids or cell receptors, eliminating the "high" while harnessing the most useful aspects of the chemical.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Ash said:
So it would make sense that marijuana has a calming effect on the brain.
In moderation and over the short term, yes. So does alcohol. So do opioids.

But of course they all have costs too... some of them serious, destructive, and destabilizing.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Actually, I should have said:

Q: So it would make sense that marijuana has a calming effect on the brain.

A: In many people, in moderation, and over the short term, yes. So does alcohol. So do opioids. However, as with alcohol, there can be other effects in different people. For example, most people drinking alcohol will experience an initial euphoria and stimulation/energization, followed by a "depressive" effect, most evident in sleepiness or slowness. For other people, the initial energization continues, or more correctly can be sustained or renewed by having another drink -- I think such people may be more at risk for binge drinking because of this. Similarly, cannabis tends to make most people feel relaxed and hyperfocused; for other people, cannabis produces an almost "speed-like" hyperactivity and hyperalertness, or the "paranoia" Steve mentions.

In all cases, though, it is important to remember that substances which have any of these effects are achieving them by "messing with brain chemistry"...
for other people, cannabis produces an almost "speed-like" hyperactivity and hyperalertness, or the "paranoia" Steve mentions.

This is the reason why I cannot handle marijuana. If I have some, I will get that feeling. I won't be able to sleep properly because my heart will be racing for the next 12 hours or so. For that reason, I will not touch it.


Boy, most of the only times that I have been relatively at peace is when I would smoke pot. Off of it, my brain goes non-stop and I can't relax.

I'm wondering how combination toxins interact, such as drinking alcohol and smoking marjiuana at the same time, is there a specific system?

Or alternatively is it dependant entirely on the dosage of each regarding which is dealt with by the body first?

I remember an experience of mine disorientation, hallucination, perception of increased physical capabilities and sensory activity.

How would smoking marjiuana affect a person who was paranoid via mental illness?

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I don't know that I can answer your questions specifically, Brilliant. However, I can tell you that the "high" you get from any drug -- alcohol, cannabis, whatever -- occurs because that drug "messes with brain chemistry".

Beyond that, I know that brain chemistry is a complicated and somewhat fragile system. The three major neurotransmitters -- serontonin, noprepinephrine (nroadrenaline), and dopamine -- interact with one another and with the endocrine system (all the hormones in your body), so that the whole tightly integrated system is a little like an arrangement of dominos: Change one element and that event ripples thorughout the entire system in small or sometimes large ways.

So if you have someone who already has a disturbed or imbalanced neurochemistry, and you add in a psychoactive drug that is not designed to specifically correct that specific imbalance, you are very likely to throw the system into even greater disarray. Since individuals react to drugs in somewhat individual ways, it can be hard to predict exactly WHAT will happen but you can be fairly confident that it will be risky and probably not good.

If somone is suffering from an anxiety disorder, or depression, or OCD, or a paranoid disorder, or schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, etc., my advice would definitely be to not put yourself at greater risk by using non-precribed psychoactive drugs like cannabis.
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