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
April 28, 2018
The Cannabis sativa plant has been known since the beginning of time. It can be traced back 5000 years ago when it was first known to man to alleviate common complaints. It came into the American pharmacopeia in the 19th century then abolished in the 1930’s, likely not coincidentally as the era of prohibition was lifted. It is known to treat ailments such as chronic pain and migraine. In the middle ages, it was used to treat headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, bacterial infections and pain from rheumatological conditions. It was previously known for its psychoactive properties. It is recently making a resurgence in popularity regarding its medical value. The issue is a topic of hot debate as state laws are at odds with federal laws. Currently, as of April 2018, it is still recognized as a category 1 drug, meaning it is not officially proclaimed to have any medical value despite the long rich history of treating medical symptoms. It is lumped in with other drugs of abuse such as heroin and cocaine.
Background on the Cannabis sativa plant and their metabolites
The Cannabis sativa plant is abundantly rich in phytocannabinoids, the most commonly known and used for its therapeutic value are cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol. The endocannabinoid pathway is comprised of receptors that are coupled with G proteins and cannabinoids (1). In the Cannabis sativa plant, there are 80 phytocannabinoids that can bind to a cannabinoid receptor.
There are 8 major cannabinoids including cannabigerolic acid, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabolinic acid A, cannabidiolic acid A, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabigerol, cannabidiol, cannabichromene, and tetrahydrocannabivarin in the different strains of Cannabis sativa (1).
Ehlsoly, et al, classified it into 11 categories: cannabigerol, cannabichromene, cannabidiol, ∆9-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol, ∆8-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabicyclol, cannabielsoin, cannabinol, cannabinodiol, cannabitriol, and miscellaneous. ∆9 -trans-tetrahydrocannabinol , cannabinol, and cannabidiol are the most well-studied and well-known.
Cannabidiol is extracted from the hemp portion of the plant considered a male part of the plant, there are no psychoactive properties in cannabidiol. Psychoactivity is defined as anything above 0.3% of THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol is derived from the female portion of the plant, particularly the flowers. Conditions are such that in nurseries only a certain amount of sunlight is given to the plants so that specific strains can be grown. Some plants will be richer in cannabidiol, others will be more THC pure and other swill have an equal amount of CBD and THC but it depends on how the plants are grown and under what conditions.
It is through the endocannabinoid pathway that one gets the sense of well being after exercise or eating chocolate. It is not through endorphins, serotonin or noradrenergic neurotransmitters as they are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier. Tetrahydrocannabinol acts as a mimetic of Anandamide while cannabidiol acts as a mimetic of 2-Arachidinoylglyerol (or 2-AG). The endocannabinoid system works through cannabinoids, the receptors, transporters, and enzymes.
The phytocannabinoids work on cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system is mediated by 3 parts: the cannabinoids, the cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes. The receptors are of 2 types, CB1 which is found primarily in the nervous system especially in the areas that subserve pain modulation, memory and movement. The CB2 receptor is more peripherally found specifically in the immune system. The CB2 receptor is found to a lesser extent in other organs including tissues of reproduction, pituitary, heart, lungs, adrenal and gastrointestinal systems. Cannabinoids also react with the TRPV receptor or the transient receptor cation channel subfamily V. They can also act on G receptors including GPR55 thought to be significant in controlling seizures. Other receptors include GPR12, GPR18, and GPR119 (2).
Tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol and their effect on receptors
THC and CBD are the most well-known and well-studied. THC has psychoactive properties and works as a partial agonist on the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor. Cannabidiol which has no psychoactive properties works as an antagonist on CB1/CB2 receptor and an agonist on the CB1 and CB2 receptor. Rather than decreasing the effects of THC, it works in a synergistic manner in combination with THC. It potentiates the THC effects by increasing the CB1 densities. CBD increases vanilloid pain receptors, reduces metabolism and reduces re-uptake of anandamide, THC’s mimetic component. Other studies suggest CBD acts as an indirect agonist by interacting with the CB1 receptor so there are less psychoactive symptoms from THC when the two are combined.
Pharmacokinetics of tetrahydrocannabinol
Regardless of the way of taking it, the protein binding and the and volume of distribution are not affected by the route of taking it. Pharmacokinetics of creams and vaporizers are unclear. Smoking THC appears to exert an effect within minutes of intake and bioavailability is variable depending upon the extent of inhalation ranging between 2-69%. The effect is within minutes. Half-life increases with each inhalation at 2 puffs inhaled for THC it is 1.9 hours and 5.3 hours in CBD at 8 inhalations it is 5.2 hours in THC and 9.4 hours in CBD at a dosage of 5.4mgTHC/5.0mg CBD and 21.5mg THC/20 mg CBD respectively.
Oral routes may seem to be safer but have more adverse effects including GI symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Oral mucosal absorption is rapid within 15 minutes to 60 minutes. Oral tablets are lower in the rate of absorption at about 0.6 to 2.5 hours. The rate of elimination, when taken orally, is biphasic, initially occurring at 4 hours then 24-38 hours after ingestion.
There is much research ongoing on the mechanisms underlying the medical value of medical marijuana. It is now thought that cannabigerolic acid may have medicinal properties as well. So far, the most well-known and well studied are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol. Most likely as research continues, greater value will likely be attributed towards the phytocannabinoids.
- Wang, et al, “Quantitative Determination of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, CBG, CBD, their acid precursors and five other neutral cannabinoids by UHPLC-UV-MS,” Planta. Med, 2019, mar., 84 (4):260-266.
- Landa, et al, “Medical cannabis in the treatment of cancer pain and spastic conditions and options of drug delivery in clinical practice,”Biomed. Pap. Med. Fac. Univ. Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub., 2018, Mar; 162(1):18-25.
Virginia Thornley, Neurologist, Epileptologist
April 15, 2018
The vagal nerve stimulation device is an implanted device that exerts its effort by pulses of electrical activity that stimulates the vagal nerve or cranial nerve X. It had initially been found to work in animal studies in the 1990’s then later applied in clinical studies.
Mechanism of action
For years, the mechanism was unknown and was used rather effectively in the clinical realm. The elucidated mechanisms were thought to be that the vagal nerve stimulator modifies the highly synchronized electrical activity that occurs in epilepsy through desynchronization via the vagal nerve. In addition, there is increased regional cerebral perfusion, and there is increased GABA neurotransmitters which are inhibitory towards electrical activity causing seizures and a decrease in glutamate which is known to increase excitation with the brain. There are GABA-A receptor increases, an increase in locus ceruleus produced noradrenergic substances which are released through the vagal nerve and an increase in serotonin transmissions through the raphe nucleus.
Role in controlling seizures
In the original open-label trial in 5 clinical trials, the vagal nerve stimulation device was found to be effective in reducing seizures by 50%. 454 patients had the implanted device and clinical information was obtained from 440. A cardiac stimulation device was implanted along with a coil in the ipsilateral vagal nerve. At 1 year of implantation, more than 50% of reduction of seizures occurred in 36.8% of patients at year 1, 43.2% year 2, and 42.7% at year 3. The most common side effect at year 2 was hoarseness of about 9.8% and headache in 4.5% and at 3 years there was shortness of breath in 3% (4).
In one retrospective study from 1997 to 2008, 436 patients were found with implanted vagal nerve stimulation devices from ages 1-76, 220 were women and 216 were men. 33 had poor follow-up and 3 had removal due to infection. The mean frequency of seizures was better at 50% reduction. There was 90% better control on 90 patients, >75% control in 162 patients and 50% control in 255 patients, <50% control in 145 patients. Permanent damage to the vagal nerve happened in 2.8% or 11 patients out of the 400 patients (after the removal of the ones lost to follow-up and infected) (5).
Long-term value of vagal nerve stimulating device, effectiveness after 5 years
There have been many studies reported that it may be effective short-term. But there was one pediatric study that reported success in seizure control in longer than 5 years. In a study of 56 pediatric patients ages 4-17, >9.8% were seizure free after 9 months, 24% after 2 years, 46.4% after 3 years and 54% after 5 years.11 out of the 56 patients became seizure free. After 5 years 62% of the patients had fewer seizures after 5 years.
What happens from diagnosis to implantation to use
A patient is identified as medically refractory, meaning a patient who has already failed 2 or more agents. Once control is failed after 2 anti-epileptic drugs after an adequate dosage and trial, the likelihood of being seizure free becomes significantly less. It is usually applied to patients with partial seizures, the most common being temporal lobe epilepsy. After appropriate identification is done, the patient undergoes a procedure where a cardiac device is implanted under the skin which generates an electrical impulse. A wire or coil is attached to the vagal nerve which reacts to this signal and emits an electrical pulse which inhibits the seizure which is electrical activity in the brain by disrupting this through various mechanisms. The device can be programmed to have a set frequency, amount of power and can be set to automatic with features where the patient can apply a magnet to inhibit the seizure when it is about to occur. The magnet is typically swiped over the cardiac device which was implanted over the left side of the chest. The settings can be changed in the doctor’s office adjusting according to the number and frequency of seizures.
Common side effects
Some of the most common side effects reported include hoarseness, cough, throat irritation, dyspnea, insomnia, dyspepsia, and vomiting. The symptoms are related to the location of the device near the nerve causing local irritation and likely due to the functions subserved by the vagal nerve.
Incidental weight loss effect
Vagal nerve stimulation device was applied to treatment-resistant patients with depression where an incidental effect on weight loss was found. One study in 33 patients showed that the vagal nerve stimulator implanted in patients seemed to alter cravings for sweet food which may play a part in weight loss (2). There have been some conflicting studies proving that there is no weight loss in vagal nerve stimulating device at the settings recommended in epilepsy in 21 patients (3). In a large study of 503 patients from 15 study centers, vagal nerve blockade was applied intrabdominally. 294 patients were randomized to treated (192) and to control groups (102). Therapy involved electrical stimulation through an external power source to the vagal nerves in the subdiaphragm which inhibits afferent and efferent vagal transmission. At 12 months, the excess weight loss in the treated group was 17% and in the control group, it was 16%. There was no statistic difference between the two groups, however, the post-study analysis demonstrated a possible result in weight loss related to the system check of the devices using low charges which may have caused weight loss in the control group (6).
There is strong evidence that the vagal nerve stimulation device is effective at reducing seizures of >50% of the medication-resistant epilepsy patient. It is effective even after 5 years of implantation. There are very little side effects which are mild to moderate. In addition, it can cause weight loss.
- Serdaroglu, et al, “Long-term effect of vagus nerve stimulation in pediatric intractable epilepsy: an extended follow-up,” Child’s Nervous System, 2016, 32 (4):641-646.
- Bodenlos, “Vagus nerve stimulation acutely alters food craving in adults with depression,” Appetite, 2007, 48: 145-153.
- Koren, et al, “Vagus nerve stimulation does not lead to significant changes in body weight in patients with epilepsy,” Epilepsy Behav. 2006;8:246–249.
- Morris, et al, “Long-term treatment with vagus nerve stimulation with refractory epilepsy,” Neurology, 1999, 53 (8):1731-1735.
- Elliot, et al, “Vagus nerve stimulation in 436 consecutive patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: long-term outcomes and predictors of response,” Epilepsy Behavior, 2011, Jan., 20(1):57-83.
- Sarr, et al, “The EMPOWER study:randomized, prospective, double-blind, multicenter trial of vagal blockade to induce weight loss in morbid obesity,” Obes. Surg., 2012, Nov., 22 (11):1771-82.