Thursday, October 16, 2008

Monkeys with no memories and the marijuana munchies

Endocannabinoids are chemicals we make that are important in many functions, including cognitive thought, and memory. When our internal endocannabinoid levels are low, we also start to crave sugar. (THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is also a cannabinoid, and using it messes with our cannabinoid system, giving us the munchies).

In this study, endocannabinoid levels were evaluated in the prefrontal cortex area of 23 pairs of brain cadavers of people with schizophrenia and normal age and gender matched comparisons. Messenger RNA levels for endocannabinoid production were lower in the schizophrenic brains.

Eighteen brains of macaque monkeys who had been exposed long-term to one of two antipsychotics, haloperidol (Haldol) or olanzapine (Zyprexa), were compared to brains that had never been exposed to these medications. There was no significant difference in their endocannabinoid levels. So even though the medication was helping some aspect of the schizophrenia, it was not correcting the endocannabinoid imbalance.

That might provide one reason why it might be hard for schizophrenics to stay compliant with their medication--they're not being given a medication that helps their brains remember to take it.

As a nutritionist, I also see an important "next study". Knowing that omega-3 fatty acids DO improve cognition and memory, I wonder what would happen if that supplementation was added to the protocol?

It also explains why these clients have such an appetite for sweets, and the kind of foods that further degrade the brain. It's coming from a pretty entrenched biological mechanism.

Eggan SM, Hashimoto T, Lewis DA. Reduced cortical cannabinoid 1 receptor messenger RNA and protein expression in schizophrenia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Jul;65(7):772-84.

OK, I managed to keep a straight face until now, which I wanted to do since schizophrenia is an entirely serious topic and people with the disease deserve my respect. Completely. But do you know how hard it was to word this study without using the distracting phrase "monkey brain"? I figured this guy must have been a subject, given his predilection for popsicles.

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