Dudes, neuropsychologist Xia Zhang and a team of researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan have found that a synthetic marijuana-like drug stimulated the generation of brain cells and exerted an antidepressant-like effect in rats.
The hippocampus area of the adult brain is unusual in that it contains neural stem/progenitor cells capable of generating new neurons throughout a person's life. Researchers believe that these new cells help to improve memory and combat depression and mood disorders.
Most drugs of abuse studied thus far — including opiates, alcohol, nocotine, and cocaine — decrease adult hippocampal neurogenesis, but when the Zhang team injected rats with HU210, a synthetic drug that is about one-hundred times as powerful as natural THC, they found it appeared to induce new brain cell growth, just as some antidepressant drugs do.
"I think it's a very exciting study," Amelia Eisch, an addiction researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, told Nature.com. "It makes marijuana look more like an antidepressant and less like a drug of abuse."
But Eisch said more work has to be done to establish that naturally occurring THC has the same positive effects as the synthetic HU210, and that more sophisticated experiments need to be developed to "firm up the correlation between neuron growth in the hippocampus and emotional balance."
Not wishing to be the alibi for a new wave of pot puffing, Zhang cautions that while cannabinoids appear to be able to modulate pain, nausea, vomiting, epilepsy, ischemic stroke, cerebral trauma, multiple sclerosis, and tumors in addition to his new findings of brain cell generation, "marijuana has been the most commonly used illicit drug in developed countries, producing acute memory impairment and dependence/withdrawal symptoms in chronic users."
He's looking into the latter stuff next.