Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist
May 6, 2018
There is a well-known correlation of use of cannabis whether it is medical or recreational to the onset of schizophrenia. It unclear if this could be to a direct correlation and disinhibition of the genetic component or the behavior of using it is a prodrome leading up to schizophrenia. This review seeks to elucidate the mechanisms in the correlation of the use of cannabis and onset of schizophrenia.
Mechanisms related to the underlying genetic composition
Schizophrenia may be linked when some of the normal pathways become disrupted with an introduction of THC. There are 4 genes that were described after a lifetime use of cannabis including KCNT2 which were THC responsive, NCAM1 and CADM2 are significant in functioning in post-synapse. With THC in the system, there are more post-synaptic density genes (1).
Mechanisms related to other neurotransmitter pathways influenced by cannabinoids
In one study, because of the alarming rate of potent synthetic cannabis used recreationally which was found to leave long-lasting schizophrenia disorder in recreational users, this has accelerated research into the pathophysiology. Because cannabinoids work on the CB1 receptor, it is likely that it plays a modulatory role on the other neurotransmitters that can give rise to schizophrenia including dopaminergic, glutamatergic and serotonergic pathways. These pathways are well-established as playing a role in a pro-psychotic state. High efficacy synthetic cannabinoids which are manufactured for recreational purposes are highly more potent compared to natural organic cannabinoids and there is an alarming increase in the correlation of schizophrenia in these users (2).
In one study it is thought to be due to the hypofunctioning of the glutamate system which is directly affected by THC. Exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol appears to reduce the activity at the level of the glutamate receptor as well as deregulate genes for synaptic function(1).
Susceptibility is related to the development of schizophrenia
In one animal model, the set-up tried to mimic a more real state seen where not all adolescents exposed to synthetic cannabinoids react by developing schizophrenia, there are some studies where all animals develop schizophrenia with exposure. In this animal model, they provided a model that resembles the human model more closely and found that exposure to synthetic cannabinoids in schizophrenia-prone animals caused hyperfunctioning of dopaminergic pathways compared to the control group who were not susceptible at the same dosages. There may be underlying genetic or environmental factors that cause certain individuals to become more prone (2).
THC can cause anxiety and behavioral disorders but can be prevented with CBD
In one animal study, it was found in a rat study that THC can induce anxiety and behavioral disorders. With THC administration object recognition was impaired in adolescent rates. The studies support effect on the developing brain in relation to cognitive impairment in the animal model. In addition, when rats were exposed to THC there was increased marble burying behavior which in scientific research is thought to signify anxiety or obsessive-compulsive type behavior usually ameliorated with serotonin reuptake inhibitors or benzodiazepines(4).
It was found, however, that a combination of CBD and THC or cannabidiol alone was administered, these behaviors were not produced or produced only minimally. The thought is that CBD is an allosteric competitive inhibitor at the CB1 receptor so that one sees less of the toxic undesirable effects of THC if administered alone (4).
Cannabinoids have a similar profile to atypical anti-psychotics and may be a possible adjunctive treatment in the treatment of psychotic events (5).
There is historical evidence that exposure to THC can give rise to schizophrenia in those individuals that are susceptible accounting for the fact that it does not happen to everybody exposed to it. This is related to its influence on serotonergic, dopaminergic and glutamate pathways. THC can induce anxiety, repetitive behaviors which are ameliorated by CBD. CBD may be a useful adjunctive treatment for psychotic disorders. However, the elucidated mechanisms are based on scientific research based on animal models which may not translate into humans.
- Guennewig, et al, “THC exposure of human iPSC neurons impacts genes associated with neuropsychiatric disorder,” Transl. Psychiatry, 2018, Apr., 8(1):89.
- Fantegrossi, et al, “Pro-psychotic effects of synthetic cannabinoids: interactions with central dopamine, serotonin and glutamate systems, Drug Metab. Review, 2018, Jan, 50(1)
- Aguilar, et al, “Adolescent synthetic cannabinoid exposure produces enduring changes in dopamine neuron activity in the rodent model of schizophrenia,” Int. J. Neurpsychopharmacol., 2018, Apr., 31 (4):393-403.
- Murphy, et al, “Chronic adolescent delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol treatment of male mice leads to long-term cognitive behavioral dysfunction which is prevented by concurrent cannabidiol treatment,” Cannabis Cannabinoid Res., 2017, 2(1):235-246.
- Deiana, et al, “Medical use of cannabis: a new light for schizophrenia?” Drug Test Analysis, 2013, Jan., (5)1:46-51
Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist
March 11, 2018
A patient comes to you asking “Doc, my seizures are getting worse, I really hate the side effects of my medications, I really want to go a different route. Have you heard about medical marijuana?” You start sweating profusely, fidgeting in your seat, thinking of every single reason why not to recommend it and come up with the standard response, “uh, well, I’m not qualified to recommend it and it’s not FDA approved, plus we don’t really know much about it there could be so many side effects.” And then we have the oldie but goodie response, “there’s not enough large randomized control trials to recommend it.” This scene plays 100,000 times over if not a million times over in physician offices across the country. Patients who are disillusioned with adverse effects of medications are looking towards alternative therapy. As surprising as it sounds, patients with chronic pain do not want to get intoxicated by opioids. In fact, some want to be tapered off of them or refuse them all together. Patients with end-stage cancer at the terminal stage of their lives wish to live a comfortable and humane existence without the need for more chemotherapeutic medications or pain medications that consistently make them feel like a zombie. While other patients with epilepsy may be on 4 different anti-epileptic agents and can no longer function or have a good quality of life because of side effects. There are two sides to every coin.
Why you should be educated on cannabidiol and THC use in medical conditions
If patients do not get their answers from their trusted physicians who they trust with their well-being, their health, the temples of their souls, they will go to great lengths in procuring this knowledge. This is via various sites on the internet some of the dubious nature others are from high quality companies that have been in business even before this seeming treatment fad started. Or, the information may be obtained from their brother-in-law’s friend’s hair stylist who is now pain-free after going through a long course of pain medications including ablative treatments, physical therapy, and acupuncture and has a physician who does recommend it. Like it or not, cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol are alternative treatment options and are gaining more and more traction. To ignore it is to be complacent with the changing direction and landscape of medicine. As patients become more and more disillusioned by the limitation of conventional treatments, attention is directed towards alternative regimens. It is not just for the yoga-practicing patient looking for more natural methods, one sees the sweet 83-year-old gentleman who must be someone’s grandfather with the chronic hip pain of 50 years who have failed opioids and is simply looking for pain relief.
Is there any evidence that it works?
The endocannabinoid pathway is found naturally in the system. It is responsible for the runner’s sense of wellbeing one gets after a 5-mile run and the pleasant mood you get after a 1-hour work-out with Zumba. There are 2 receptors in the system CB1 receptor which has the highest number of brain cells and the CB2 receptor which is found predominantly in the immune system. There are 2 common cannabinoids cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol which exert various medical effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) has a weak affinity for the CB1 receptor and one needs 100 times the amount to get the same euphoria that one gets from tetrahydrocannabinol, the bane of every ER physician. Unfortunately, the side effects of euphoria of THC have preceded its popularity as a medical product. Little do we know it was once used for hundreds of years as a medication before the psychoactive properties were exploited for recreational purposes. In urologic culture cell lines, it is found that cannabinoids may reduce proliferation of cancer cells and reduce the pro-inflammatory microenvironment that is necessary for metastatic conditions (1). Human studies are still needed to determine a reduction in tumor loads. THC receptors are found in retinal cells and may be found to reduce intraocular pressure in glaucoma (5, 6). Cannabidiol is found to bind to the 5HT1 receptor which reduces anxiety. THC has been well-established in the mouse model to promote the inhibitory control of excitatory pathways in the hippocampus, where seizures commonly arise (8). There is an increase in CB1 receptors after prolonged seizures suggesting a compensatory response. It has been used in combination and found in several randomized control trials to reduce the frequency of seizures by as much as 36% in medically refractory patients (2). It is well-established that cannabinoids reduce pain refractory to conventional medications (3). It has been found in bench research to be an antioxidant and have anti-inflammatory properties (4, 7). Some studies cite side effects of somnolence, nausea, dysphoria, however, it is not clear what was the quality of cannabinoids or dosages were used. At high doses, while THC can reduce pain it may also result in side effects, which is why it is usually used in combination with CBD which ameliorates the side effects of THC. In addition, cannabidiol by itself has no euphoria and it takes 100 times the amount to achieve intoxication seen with THC use. Synthetic products will have more side effects than products that are organic meaning only of natural materials.
Given the huge amount of evidence in several different medical conditions (3), the results should overwhelmingly be towards a push in using cannabinoids more frequently. However, because of the cynicism of the public, physicians even of patients, who have been exposed more frequently to the harmful psychoactive side effects, the benefits are far overshadowed. More clinical randomized controlled trials are needed. Most literature cites small numbers of patients enrolled in studies or review multiple medical centers where the conditions are not uniform. In addition, some of the patients that would benefit the most are the least in numbers such as those with rare neurological conditions such as Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastuat syndrome.
As it still stands, many states still do not recognize the medicinal value of cannabidiol or tetrahydrocannabinol. In some states, medical physicians are not allowed to recommend it and put themselves at risk for FBI questioning in even suggesting its use. It is not uncommon for patients to move states or order from other states or countries to procure this liquid gold that is supposed to work wonders. Only time will tell if this is a passing fad and if there are long-standing side effects, however, as of current standing, medical marijuana is here to stay. As far as the literature goes, there are beneficial results but it is a cautionary tale as more studies in large human trials are still needed. As with any new preclinical data, the preclinical status may get ahead of itself and human trials do not replicate the desired results. But from the small clinical trials in seizures, pain, nausea, anxiety, and loss of appetite, the results are promising while more research is needed for anti-tumor effects in humans.
As with any medication, there will be clear-cut side effects just as with any other medication which is why more studies are needed to determine the least amount with the least amount of side effects. In some studies, amounts upwards of 50mg/kg (2) is used the high amounts likely responsible for causing side effects, which is far higher than that cautioned by medical marijuana dispensaries. It will take patients time to wrap their heads around taking guidance from a fresh-faced 20-year-old millennial at the spa-like dispensary which is currently the norm at most dispensaries, who likely knows much more than even most medical professionals. It seems it will take even longer in Congress to understand the potential benefit of cannabinoids from a medical standpoint especially with the present opioid epidemic. Countries in Europe have far surpassed the United States when it comes to cutting-edge treatments. Perhaps, it will take even longer for the medical community to see the medical potential with their exposure to the sinister side of tetrahydrocannabinol seen in patients in the ER for non-medical reasons, which may be one of the most challenging stumbling blocks.
- Ghandhi, et al, “Systemic review of the potential role of cannabinoids as anti-proliferative agents for urological cancer,” Can. Urol. Assoc. J., 2017, May,-April., 11(3-4):E138-E142.
- Devinsky, et al, “Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial,” Lancet Neurology, 2016, Mar., 15(3):270-280.
- Petzke, et al, “Efficacy, tolerability, and safety of cannabinoids for chronic neuropathic pain: a systemic review of randomized controlled studies,” Schmerz, 2016, Feb., 30(1):62-88.
- Rajan. et al, “Gingival stromal cells as an in vitro model: cannabidiol modulates genes linked with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 2017, Apr., 118(4):819-828.
- ElSohly, et al, “Cannabinoids in glaucoma II: the effect of different cannabinoids on intraocular pressure on rabbits,”Current Eye Research, 1984, Jun., 3(6):841-50.
- Jarvinen, T., “Cannabinoids in the treatment of glaucoma,” Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 2002, Aug., 95(2):203-20.
- Carroll, et al, “9-Tetrahydrocannabinol exerts a direct neuroprotective effect in human cell culture model of Parkinson’s disease,” Neuropathology and Applied Neuropharmacology, 2012, Oct., 38(6):3535-547.
- Kaplan, et al, “Cannabidiol attenuates seizures and social deficits in a mouse model in Dravet syndrome,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2017, Oct.
Virginia Thornley, M.D., General Neurologist and Epileptologist
February 16, 2018
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the little known medical component without the euphoria used for medical indications such as analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic and anxiolytic effects. In the pathway for endocannabinoids, cannabinoid exerts its therapeutic effects by binding to the CBD1 receptor found in the brains and the nerves exerting their analgesic effects. CBD does not have the same euphoriant effect as THC its counterpart which is better known to the public with much stigma. CBD will need to be 100 times more potent to have the same euphoria as THC making it relatively safe to give without the intoxicating effects. THC or delta-tetrahydrocannabidiol is the main psychoactive component in the marijuana plant, the one finds in the street drugs which has caused such a stigma shadowing the beneficial effects of the plant. Cannabidiol is also thought to work on the 5HT1 receptor giving its anxiolytic properties. This review seeks to understand some of the laboratory research that study the underlying mechanisms for its beneficial actions.
Cannabidiol works on CBD1 receptor and is thought to have an analgesic and anti-inflammatory role in diseases. In many states, it still outlawed to have in possession but growing clinical evidence shows that it can be used in pain syndromes. In the state of Florida there are 10 conditions recognized that can be treated with CBD. It is most commonly used in pain from stage IV metastatic cancer. Cannabidiol has been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic, analgesic, anti-epileptic and anxiolytic properties.
CB1 receptors are found to be expressed in anterior horn cells. The CB2 receptors possibly reduce pain by acting on the neutrophil accumulation and mast cell degranulation which can reduce pain both of these processes increase inflammatory algesia(1).Analgesia has been demonstrated with cannabinoids in visceral inflammation and pain due to peripheral neuropathies, important areas of therapeutic considerations.
Some of the vast scientific research for cannabinoid is found in the animal models for epilepsy. Cannabinoids exert effects on CB1 and CB2 receptors in the hippocampus where it has a weak affinity(5). CBD1 receptors affect transmission in the synapses through the voltage-gated calcium and potassium channels. There are studies on the effects of CBD in refractory types of epilepsy such as Dravet’s syndrome one of the SCN1a genetic disorders affecting the sodium channel manifesting as severe myoclonic epilepsy. Mechanisms of CBD include increasing excitation of the inhibitory effect of the hippocampus where seizures are propagated. At low doses, it helps with autism and impaired cognition. It may exert its effect by working against GPR55(7), TRPV1 in addition to voltage-gated voltage-gated potassium and sodium channels. Another study supports the role that cannabinoids may play in shifting the inhibition of glutamatergic effects and GABAergic effects in the hippocampus mediated by CB1 receptors. In the rat model, it was suggested that seizures can upset the balance of these glutamate and GABA systems (4). 15 minutes after an induced seizure, there is increased 2-arachidonylycerol which is a CB1 agonist suggesting cannabinoids act as a negative feedback loop for seizures(4). In addition, it was found there are more CB1 receptors in the hippocampi with induced seizures compared to control suggesting plasticity of the brain with a compensatory increase in CB1 receptors in response to increased seizures(4). CB2 receptors are related to the immune system and are limited in the CNS. Cannabinoids affect calcium homeostasis and may provide its neuroprotective effects. Growing evidence shows case series, case reports and anecdotal reports on patients having fewer seizures on cannabidiol. Large case-controlled clinical randomized trials are needed.
There appears to be increased cancel cell death, reduced viability and reduced numbers of metastatic cells. In one study, it is found to reduce epidermal growth factor-induced multiplication and chemotaxis of cells in breast cancer. In mouse models, it inhibits macrophage recruitment in tumor-related cells.n It can potentially inhibit metastasis and proliferation and may provide a novel therapeutic option in breast cancer(2).
It works on the 5HT1 receptor by altering effects on this receptor the exact mechanism is unknown accounting for anxiolytic properties(6).
CBD may alter the effects of THC and reduce its psychoactive properties (6).
Alternative treatment in opioid use
CBD might also work in place of opioids with the growing epidemic of chronic pain and overuse of opioids, CBD may be an alternative analgesic for chronic pain without the effect of tolerance or sedating properties. CBD was found to reduce the reward effects of morphine and does not have the same properties of tolerance. CBD does not have the same euphoria and THC and works on pain(6).
In summary, it is an exciting time for research in the use of cannabinoids. There are innumerable basic science research studies demonstrating the therapeutic effects at the cellular level. Large randomized clinical trials are still needed to gain information in using cannabinoids in humans.
1. Rice, AS, et al, “Endocannabinoids and pain: peripheral and spinal analgesia in inflammation and neuropathy, ” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 2002, Feb., 66(2-3)246-256.
2. Elbaz, E. et al, ” Modulation of tumor microenvironment and inhibition of EGF/EGFR pathway: novel mechanisms of Cannabidiol on breast cancer,”Molecular Oncology, 2015, Apr., 9(4):906-919.
3. Welty, W.E., et al, “Cannabinoids: the promises and pitfalls,” Epilepsy Currents, 2014, Sep.-Oct., 14(5):250-252.
4. Wallace, MJ, et al, ” The endogenous Cannabinoid system regulates seizure frequency and duration in a model of temporal lobe epilepsy, ” The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 2003, Oct., 307(1):129-137.
5. Gaston, T. et. al, “Pharmacology of cannabinoids in the treatment of epilepsy, ” Epilepsy Behavior, 2017, May, 70:313-318.
6. Volkow, Nora, “The biology and potential therapeutic effects of cannabidiol,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, 2015, June.
7. Kaplan, et.al, “Cannabidiol attenuates seizures and social deficits in a mouse model in Dravet syndrome, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2017, Oct.