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STEVE ELLIOTT

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Not Only Is ‘Marijuana Addiction’ A Manufactured ‘Problem’; This Week’s Brouhaha About A ‘Cure’ Is Nonsense, According to the British National Health Service

You have probably seen the clueless headlines this week, trumpeting a “cure for marijuana addiction.” Like me, you probably first wondered “Marijuana addiction? Have they somehow discovered a whole new, lower class of losers?”

Well, first of all, let’s dispense with the most glaringly obvious problem with this story: There definitely aren’t hordes of desperate “marijuana addicts” roaming the streets looking for a cure for their affliction. And in fact, almost all of those unfortunate souls who are in “drug rehab” for “marijuana abuse” aren’t there by choice, nor even because they remotely need to be — they are there because they were forced there by a judge’s court order, with Door Number 2 being the jailhouse entrance.

So, naturally, the infamous National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — which, by its own rules, will only study the “negative effects” of cannabis use, not any medical benefits — decides that it’s ever-so-urgent to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a “cure for marijuana abuse.” The absurdity would be amusing, if it weren’t so painfully stupid.

All too eager to go along with the maddening charade, veritably leading a pea-brained little feel-good parade about the new discovery, tabloid rags like the U.K.’s Daily Mail, in all its hyperventilating glory, asked, Have scientists found a ‘cure’ for marijuana addiction? New treatment blocks the kick that users get from the drug.”

“A cure for marijuana abuse could be on the horizon thanks to a new finding,” the lead sentence, by hack Emma Innes, informs us.

The story goes on to detail a study involving monkeys and rats, and how something called kynurenic acid (found in bananas and turkey, and also naturally found in the human brain) can blunt (forgive me) the rewarding effects of THC, the principal psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana.

Kynurenic acid apparently works by blocking the receptors that increase the rush of pleasant feelings and euphoria brought on by the brain chemical dopamine, reports Tanya Lewis at Fox News.

Robert Schwarcz, University of Maryland: "Quote"
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Robert Schwarcz,
University of Maryland:

“Any drug of abuse has to do with dopamine”

“Any drug of abuse has to do with dopamine,” said study researcher Robert Schwarcz, professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland in College Park. “We found out a few years ago that kynurenic acid controls dopamine. All we had to do was put those things together.”

Almost all the stories covering this “marijuana addiction cure” pointed out that more people seek treatment for “marijuana addiction” than for heroin or cocaine. But almost none of them contextualized that by pointing out that almost every single one of those “marijuana addicts” is defined as being in need of treatment by force and under threat of jail.

Yeah, you’d think that was a rather important point. But even the hallowed Smithsonian totally missed it, gravely reporting, as if it were an established fact, that “plenty of [marijuana] users” are “seeking ways to aid in kicking the habit.” (Make no mistake about it, pot is actually one of the easiest substances to quit; there may be a slight drop-off in appetite, and some mild sleep disturbances and irritability for a couple of days, then you’re done. If you’ve ever quit Coca-Cola or coffee, weed is easy peasy.)

Anyway, the THC found in cannabis activates dopamine neurons in a brain region called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), causing the cells to release the feel-good chemical from nerves in the nucleus accumbens. Previous attempts to find a “cure for marijuana addiction” (remember, this is the infamous, benighted, ideologically driven NIDA we’re talking about, not a legitimate research center) showed that blocking receptors in the VTA and the nucleus accubmens prevented the euphoric surge in dopamine, but those treatments caused troublesome side effects.

Squirrel monkeys and rats were allowed to self-administer cannabinoids [Science Direct]
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Squirrel monkeys and rats were allowed to self-administer cannabinoids
[Science Direct]

The researchers speculated that perhaps kynurenic acid produced by the breakdown of tryptophan — a chemical found in bananas and turkey — may have fewer side effects, because it naturally regulates dopamine levels in the brain.

Testing their hypothesis, Schwarcz’s colleagues administered a drug to rats and squirrel monkeys that boosted their kynurenic acid levels, while the animals were self-dosing with THC or a similar synthetic cannabinoid by pushing a lever.

What they learned was that the rats and monkeys became less likely to self-administer the THC or synthetic cannabinoid when they had been given the dopamine-repressing drug, the researchers reported online on October 13 in the journal Nature NeuroscienceIn fact, the animals chose to consume about 80 percent less THC while under the influence of kynurenic acid. But after the drug wore off, they went right back to previous THC consumption levels.

“We found that you can reduce dopamine levels and the animals behave differently; they don’t have relapse, and don’t abuse marijuana,” Schwarcz told Fox News.

“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,” Schwarcz told Smithsonian. “It’s a totally new approach to affecting THC function.”

Now, does this mean that the Authorities have found a way to block the action of marijuana in all of us? Beyond that, since dopamine is associated with any experience of pleasure, have these fucked-up killjoys found a way to eliminate pleasure-seeking behavior from errant hedonists?

Don’t bet on it. First of all, humans aren’t as simple as rats and monkeys.

Beyond that, “Based on the evidence in the study, which involved animals, the answer to the Mail‘s question is ‘not yet,'” reports Bazian at NHS Choicesthe website of the British government’s National Health Service.

While treatment with Ro 61-8048, the compound used by the researchers to administer kynurenic acid to the rodents, blocked the effects of THC on the brain’s reward system — resulting in a drop-off in marijuana use — “further studies are required to ensure that a similar compound is safe and effective in humans,” the NHS warns.

You see, the problem is, dicking around cluelessly with dopamine levels can be much more dangerous than little ol’ marijuana ever was. Among other regrettable effects, low dopamine can lead to clinical depression, weight gain, and loss of motor control.

Even Schwarcz himself cautions that “Too much dopamine is bad for us, but too little dopamine is bad for us, too. You want homeostasis, so we have to be careful not to decrease dopamine levels too much.”

I’d add that it would be especially unfortunate to dangerously decrease dopamine levels for a reason as dumb as “marijuana addiction.” After all, wouldn’t you rather be high than depressed?

The NHS called the Daily Mail‘s choice of a headline “unhelpful and misleading,” adding that “A study involving monkeys and rats does not, however promising the results, equate to a ‘cure’ in humans.”

Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that “The present results indicate  that pharmacological modulation of brain KYNA levels by KMO inhibitors could provide an effective approach for the treatment of marijuana [cannabis] dependence.”

Now, all they need are people who are unhappy with their marijuana use, and clinical trials, to find out if the stuff is worth anything for those nine out of every 100 marijuana users whom supposedly, according to the NIDA itself, grow “dependent” on weed.

 

 

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