Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Feds Fund Study of Marijuana Withdrawal
Probing the biology of cannabis addiction.
Addiction expert Barbara Mason of the Scripps Research Institute of La Jolla, California, will oversee a four-year study of the neurobiology of marijuana dependence under a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The comprehensive project will involve both animal and human research, and will make use of state-of-the-art functional brain imaging. The federal grant will also be used as seed money for the new Translational Center on the Clinical Neurobiology of Cannabis Addiction at the Scripps Institute.
Mason, director of the Laboratory of Clinical Psychopharmacology at Scripps, told reporters in San Diego that the research, which will also be conducted at several universities, is important work: “People are deciding every day whether to use or not to use marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise, and there is little scientific information to advise this decision.” Mason has previously done work on medical therapies for alcoholism, and on the connections between alcoholism and depression.
An article by Terri Somers in the San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Dr. Mark Gold, an addiction expert from the University of Florida: “While treatments have been developed for addictions from alcohol to nicotine and narcotics, none exists for the cannabis dependent. This research will help the field define what cannabis is and is not, and how to treat it.”
Among the withdrawal symptoms common to heavy pot smokers, according to Mason, are anxiety, anger, sleep disturbances, and bad dreams. In earlier research, Mason discovered that those seeking treatment for cannabis addiction tended to cluster in two age groups—college age and mid-50s.
The research coincides with a growing belief in the psychiatric community that cannabis dependence is real and verifiable, despite years of assertions to the contrary.
There is at present a small and controversial body of clinical research, which strongly suggests the existence of a marijuana discontinuation syndrome. Dr. Gold and others believe that roughly one out of every ten pot smokers is at risk for marijuana dependence and withdrawal.
Photo credit: Kevin Fung, Scripps Research Institute