May 14, 2013 — In a first-of-its-kind effort to illuminate the biochemical impact of trauma, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have discovered a connection between the quantity of cannabinoid receptors in the human brain, known as CB1 receptors, and post-traumatic stress disorder, the chronic, disabling condition that can plague trauma victims with flashbacks, nightmares and emotional instability.
Their findings, which appear online today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, will also be presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry in San Francisco.
CB1 receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, a diffuse network of chemicals and signaling pathways in the body that plays a role in memory formation, appetite, pain tolerance and mood. Animal studies have shown that psychoactive chemicals such as cannabis, along with certain neurotransmitters produced naturally in the body, can impair memory and reduce anxiety when they activate CB1 receptors in the brain. Lead author Alexander Neumeister, MD, director of the molecular imaging program in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at NYU School of Medicine, and colleagues are the first to demonstrate through brain imaging that people with PTSD have markedly lower concentrations of at least one of these neurotransmitters — an endocannabinoid known as anandamide — than people without PTSD. Their study, which was supported by three grants from the National Institutes of Health, illuminates an important biological fingerprint of PTSD that could help improve the accuracy of PTSD diagnoses, and points the way to medications designed specifically to treat trauma.
“There’s not a single pharmacological treatment out there that has been developed specifically for PTSD,” says Dr. Neumeister. “That’s a problem. There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressant simple do not work. In fact, we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana — a potent cannabinoid — often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. Clearly, there’s a very urgent need to develop novel evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”
Read the full story at sciencedaily.com