Marijuana-Like Drugs Could Treat Schizophrenia, Study Suggests

A marijuana-like chemical produced naturally in the brain appears in higher levels in schizophrenics, a recent study of ten mentally ill patients revealed. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, speculated that the body may be producing higher amounts of the chemical, called anandamide, to fight the disease, the Orange County Register reported.

“Our findings of high levels of anandamide in these patients does indicate that [it] plays an important role in the development of the disease,” Daniele Piomelli, an associate professor of pharmacology at UCI, said. He noted that “many schizophrenics smoke marijuana and claim it eases some of their symptoms.”

Previous research at UCI found that the brain’s nerve cells use anandamide to modify the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for stimulating movement and other behavior. Scientists believe that excessive dopamine production causes some symptoms of schizophrenia, which affects one percent of the population. Current medication for schizophrenia block dopamine production, but are not always effective and have side effects.

“The idea is to develop novel medicines that use marijuana as a model,” Piomelli said. “We want to activate some of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain without producing the high. … By understanding how the anandamide system works similarly to marijuana, we can explore ways to treat [schizophrenia and other] diseases more effectively.”

Piomelli’s said he hopes to expand his study to 200 patients, but warned that anandamide’s effects on schizophrenia are still not well understood.

His findings will appear in next months issue of the journal, Neuroreport.

For more information, please contact Drs. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School @ (617) 277-3621 or John P. Morgan of the City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School @ (212) 650-8255.