Call it a buzzkill, but it’s still a breakthrough. Researchers have discovered a naturally occurring hormone in the body that can protect you from getting high when using marijuana.
In a paper recently released in the journal Science, researchers at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research found that pregnenolone, a hormone the body produces naturally, can counter the effects of THC, the component in marijuana that creates the drug's famous high.
When researchers examined the brain activity of lab rats exposed to extremely high levels of THC (well above those consumed by a marijuana user), the rats began producing high levels of pregnenolone, which blocked the effects of the drug.
Moreover, when researchers administered pregnenolone injections to the THC-induced rats, not only were the effects of THC reduced, but the rats were less inclined to self-administer more THC.
Researchers found the same results when a high level of THC was later exposed to human cell lines.
The discovery of a hormone that can take the high out of cannabis might raise the question: Why would you want to do that?
Mitigating the effects of marijuana might be advantageous in a number of scenarios. Researchers noted that the hormone could be useful in helping users overcome so-called “cannabis addiction.”
Though marijuana is generally not considered physically addictive, some users have difficulty giving up the drug. Some regular users have reported mild withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, loss of appetite, nausea and sleeplessness upon quitting, while others have noted difficulty in overcoming the behavioral or psychologically addictive aspects of the drug.
Time summed up one theory on marijuana’s disputed addictiveness:
In this view, the paradigm for addiction is heroin: the shaking, puking heroin junkie who can’t quit because the withdrawal sickness is impossible to bear. Because marijuana cessation is not linked with such severe symptoms, the drug isn’t seen as physically addictive. And considering that most people view physical addiction as uncontrollable, but psychological addiction as manageable with proper willpower, marijuana tends not to be regarded as addictive in general. As it turns out, the psychological drive is much more powerful than the physical experience of withdrawal.
Researchers hope the discovery could help users overcome some of these potential obstacles when quitting.
"These researchers weren't trying to be buzzkills," read Science. "Their discovery could lead to new approaches to treating marijuana intoxication and addiction -- and it may allow researchers to isolate the medicinal properties of cannabis while blocking its behavioral and somatic effects.”
Eliminating the buzz might also make medical marijuana treatments more appropriate for individuals who are seeking the benefits of the drug without its psychoactive properties.
For instance, some children who suffer from epilepsy, cerebral palsy and other disorders have experienced remarkable success from taking marijuana.
In Utah, a group of Mormon mothers have launched Hope 4 Children With Epilepsy, an organization that aims to bring the state safe access to cannabidiol (a marijuana derivative that’s low in THC).
"We’re not expecting this to be any kind of miracle cure," said cofounder Jennifer May, whose son suffers from a debilitating form of epilepsy, to The Huffington Post. "But the results thus far with the children have been amazing with very little side effects. It’s just something that needs to be available."
While cannabidiol and marijuana strains low in THC are currently being produced, pregnenolone could provide yet another way for patients to more safely use marijuana.
Lead researcher Pier Vincenzo Piazza explained to Indian newspaper The Hindu that pregnenolone itself cannot be administered via injection or pill because it is badly absorbed. However, Piazza's team was able to successfully use a derivative.
"We have now developed derivatives of pregnenolone that are well absorbed and stable," he said. "They then present the characteristics of compounds that can be used as new class of therapeutic drugs."