Scientists have successfully isolated the unwanted side effects of cannabis from its medical benefits.
Researchers from both the University of East Anglia (UEA), in the UK and University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, carried out their research on mice and discovered how the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabino (THC), is triggered by a pathway that is separate from its other effects.
The latest findings, published in PLOS Biology, come from a team who previously found that THC reduced tumor growth in cancer patients. It is hoped the new findings can aid the development of cannabis for medical use, without the risk of its unwanted side effects.
Scientists discovered the pathway used for THC involves both a cannabinoid and serotonin receptor. When blocked, it was discovered THC still exerted several beneficial effects, including pain relief, while also avoiding the impairment of memory, which is a common side effect of cannabis use.
Researchers undertook behavioral studies in mice and investigating how their brain pathways operate under the effect of THC. They found that one serotonin receptor, 5HT2AR, reduced some of the effects of THC - such as its amnesiac effect - but still retained medical benefits, such as pain relief.
A study published this year warned of the dangers of a chronic use of cannabis during adolescence with memory problems.
The latest study will add further weight to an already highly contested topic. The potential beneficial medical effects and dangers of cannabis use has rarely strayed from the public's eye. Twenty-three US States and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation allowing the use of cannabis for medical use.
Furthermore, Oregon has recently become the fourth US State, after Alaska, Colorado and Washington, to legalize the drug for recreational use, and studies are increasingly delving further into the full effects of the drug.
Dr. Peter McCormick from UEA's School of Pharmacy, stated this research is important for future development of treatment as it identifies THC's unwanted side effects while maintaining pain reduction.
However, Dr. McCormick was quick to warn of the dangers of individuals self-medicating, but stated he hopes the research would lead to a "safe synthetic equivalent being available in the future."