obsessive compulsive disorder

Cannabinoids in obsessive-compulsive disorder: mechanisms and effectiveness in the animal model

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

June 16, 2018

Introduction

Obsessive-compulsive disorder infamously known to the layman as someone who is excessively interested in keeping their environment clean and orderly. It is a neuropsychiatric condition, where thoughts or actions are repetitive. Usually it involves the complex balance of neurotransmitters within the nervous system so that ideas and actions are carried out in a specific manner. When there is an alteration, repetitive loops occur resulting in repetitive thoughts or reverberating loops of motor activity without the usual negative feedback inhibition. Clinically, this results in intrusive thoughts and repetitive actions that are difficult to control.

Because there is a fine orchestration of the interplay of neurotransmitters, many psychiatric agents have been developed  but success is not always complete.

Medical cannabis is emerging as a treatment option recognized as successfully treating many neuropsychiatric conditions. While large clinical randomized controlled trials are sorely lacking. Scientific research is also necessary to understand the exact science on why t might help with neuropsychiatric disorders.

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Mechanisms of cannabinoids on the CB1 receptor to alleviate repetitive behavior

Anandamide and 2-AG are metabolized by FAAH or fatty acid amide hydrolase and MAGL or monoacyglycerol lipase. FAAH inhibition has been shown to increase anxiolytic effects of endocannabinoid anandamide.

One study sought to seek the effects of FAAH inhibition and MAGL inhibition on the marble burying features of mice (1). Marble burying is a research measure where marble burying is thought to be a sign of anxiety in animals and may correlate with compulsive behavior in mice to alleviate anxiety. Marble burying is an acceptable animal model to demonstrate repetitive behavior and anxiety elicited from mice demonstrating obsessive compulsive disorder (2). Marble burying is not affected by the novelty of the marble or by anxiety. Marble burying is suggested to be a repetitive perseverative type of activity related to digging movements of mice and is a valuable measure in research to evaluate repetitive responses in animals (2).

Benzodiazepines, PF-3845, an FAAH inhibitor and JZL184, a MAGL were found to reduce marble burying activity but did not affect locomotor activity. Delta-9-THC did not reduce marble burying behavior without reducing the locomotor activity (1). In essence, there was significant hypomotility with the marble burying activity.

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Reduction of catabolic enyzymes of endocannabinoids may alleviate anxiety

An antogonist at the CB1 receptor negated the reduction of marble burying activity of FAAH and MAGL but not the benzodiazepine. This suggests that the CB1 receptor has anxiolytic properties. Possible treatments would include targeting of the enzymes that break down cannabinoids making the cannabinoids more available.

Cannabidiol effect on obsessive compulsive behavior in the animal model

Cannabidiol was given to mice using the marble burying test which is an animal model demonstrating compulsive behavior. At 15, 30 and 60mg/kg there was effective reduction of marble burying behavior compared to control mice. This study demonstrated that cannabidiol is effective in reducing repetitive perseverative behavior similar to the conditions in obsessive compulsive disorder (3).

In summary

While most of the preliminary data is entirely preclinical, there is scientific evidence that cannabidiol can reduce obsessive-compulsive behavior in the animal model. The mechanism appears to be at the level of the CB1 receptor. While preclinical data does not always translate into positive human results, this concept is promising. Clinical studies are needed.

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Reference

  1. Kinsey, et al, “Inhibition of endocannabinoid catabolic enzymes elicits anxiolytic-like effects in the marble burying assay,” Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav., 2011 Mar, 98(1)21-7
  2. Thomas, et al, “Marble burying reflects a repetitive and perseverative behavior more than novelty-induced anxiety,” Psychopharmacology, 2010, Jun., 204(2):361-373
  3. Casarotto, et al, “Cannabidiol inhibitory effect on marble-burying behavior:involvement of CB1 receptor,” Behav. Pharmacol, 2010, Jul., 21(4):353-358
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