Hebrew U. cannabis discovery helps vets ‘forget’ trauma

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October 21, 2010 05:41

Canadian veterans of Iraq war sleeping well due to decades old discovery by Israeli professor.

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Hebrew U. cannabis discovery helps vets ‘forget’ trauma

cannabis plant 298.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A synthetic form of a psychoactive compound in cannabis that was discovered by a Hebrew University professor decades ago is being used on Canadian veterans of the war in Iraq who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The compound helps veterans forget their experiences and sleep well.

The compound was found to increase forgetfulness in mice, according to Prof. Raphael Meshoulam, discoverer in 1964 of trans-delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from cannabis.

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Meshoulam spoke to 500 participants from 37 countries at the Jerusalem International Conference on Integrative Medicine on Wednesday.

While forgetting “would ordinarily be a bad thing,” he explained, in victims of PTSD, it enabled traumatized veterans who hadn’t slept well since being discharged to do so.

Mice bred without natural cannabinoid receptors in the brain, and a group with a cannabinoid system, were both exposed to music and given a mild electric shock. In a Pavlovian experiment, the mice without the cannabinoid receptors soon forgot the link, while those with the system froze in fear because they had been conditioned to associate a shock with the music. Those without the receptors forgot their conditioning.

The Canadian Army Health Services Center used this discovery to develop synthetic cannabinoid to treat the nightmares of soldiers with PTSD. Fully 72 percent were able to sleep for the first time in years.

Mechoulam predicted that cannabis – which has been known for its beneficial properties for over 4,000 years – and its active ingredients may also prove effective at treating a number of other conditions, including insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis – both autoimmune diseases in which the body’s own immune system regards healthy tissue as a “stranger” and attacks it. The compound may also be effective in conditions of inflammation, and reduce osteoporosis by promoting bone development.

And medical marijuana is used widely among licensed patients to reduce pain.

“We have collaborations with research centers from Aberdeen [Scotland] to Siberia [Russia],” noted Mechoulam.

He said he hopes that the Health Ministry, which supervises the supply of medical marijuana, will encourage the growing of varieties with the specific cannabinoids that have these additional medical benefits.

A Health Page feature on the Jerusalem conference will be published on Sunday, October 31.


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