Cookies

Like most websites The Cannabis Scientist uses cookies. In order to deliver a personalized, responsive service and to improve the site, we remember and store information about how you use it. Learn more.
Research & Development Neurology & psychology, Medical research

THC on the Brain

We already know that THC – along with most other psychoactive drugs – causes behavioral changes by interfering with the release of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) from neurons in the brain. However, a paper published recently in Nature suggests that’s not the end of the story (1). 

Previously, behavioral effects of THC were thought to arise exclusively from binding to CB1 receptors on the surface of neurons, causing them to release neurotransmitters. In the new study, researchers from Spain, France, and Germany identified an alternative mechanism, involving CB1 receptors in the mitochondria of neuronsupporting cells known as astrocytes.

Astrocyte mitochondria produce lactate, which is shuttled across to nearby neurons as an energy source. THC blocks the production of lactate in astrocytes and, without this fuel, neurons become stressed and may die.

To confirm their findings, the researchers injected THC-treated mice with lactate. Mice given THC tend to spend more time alone – when lactate was administered, their behavior returned to normal, proving that this pathway is responsible for some of the behavioral effects of THC in mice. If this turns out to be true in humans, it opens up a whole new avenue of research into how cannabinoids affect behavior.

In an accompanying Commentary article (2), neuroscientist Pierre Magistretti, who was not involved in the study, draws attention to the wider implications of the research, “Taken together, Jimenez-Blasco and colleagues’ observations highlight the importance of taking a broad view of how complex behaviours are regulated, beyond simple neuron-to-neuron communication [...] This exciting link is sure to be much studied in the future.”

Subscribe to The Cannabis Scientist Newsletters

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].

  1. D Jimenez-Blasco et al., Nature, 583, 603 (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2470-y 
  2. PJ Magistretti, Nature, 583, 526 (2020). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-020-01975-5

About the Author

Charlotte Barker

Associate Content Director

After studying biology at Imperial College London, I got my start in biomedical publishing as a commissioning editor for healthcare journals, and I’ve spent my career covering everything from early-stage research to clinical medicine. Attracted by the creativity, talent and passion of the team, I joined Texere Publishing in 2014, where I’m now Associate Content Director and Editor of The Cannabis Scientist.

Register to The Cannabis Scientist

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:

  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Cannabis Scientist magazine

Register