Monday, October 19, 2015

THC Helps Us Overcome Our Fears – And Maybe PTSD

THC boosts a type of memory called extinction memory, which helps us forget fearful memories. Scientists also hope it can be used to treat PTSD.

THC can improve memory in a process called extinction learning. It’s a type of conditioning that helps us forget fearful memories by overwriting them with new, less fearful ones. And as you might imagine, this learning process has been a major focus of PTSD research for years.

But when it comes to harnessing the potential of marijuana in treating post traumatic stress disorder, one group of scientists at the University of Michigan seem to be leading the way. Dr. Israel Liberzon explained why his team decided to study marijuana compounds – also known as (endo)cannabinoids – in an interview with Psychiatric News last month.

While endocannabinoids are produced naturally by the brain, cannabinoids from marijuana are able to mimic – and even enhance – their effects. That’s what led Dr. Liberzon, along with research fellow Dr. Christine Rabinak and several of their colleagues, to conduct the first human study – published in Neuropharmacology in January – that confirmed THC’s ability to improve extinction memory in 14 healthy volunteers.

Dr. Rabinak and Dr. Liberzon believe chemicals in marijuana may prevent the return of fear memories in people with anxiety disorders like PTSD.

But memory and marijuana are tricky subjects and – although animal studies show similar results – Dr. Rabinak told Psychiatric News they still aren’t sure how it works.

    “We speculate that the THC is doing something in the brain to change areas that are activating or interacting after learning – but exactly what is still unknown.”

Still, the treatment seems to fit with problems associated with PTSD. According to Dr. Liberzon, “we see deficits in how PTSD patients learn or unlearn to be fearful” and – as his latest study shows – it’s quite possible that cannabinoids like THC could help.

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