Friday, December 01, 2006

Marijuana-like Drugs Help Treatment of Nervous System Diseases

Sofia News Agency

Many scientists believe marijuana-like drugs might be able to treat a wide range of diseases.

Researchers have already presented evidence that cannabinoid drugs can help treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, Parkinson's disease and obesity. Other researchers are studying whether the compounds can help victims of stroke and multiple sclerosis.

Although the chemicals work on the same area of the nervous system, the new drugs are much more refined and targeted than marijuana, with few of its side effects.Like all neurotransmitter networks, the cannabinoid system consists of a series of chemical pathways through the brain and nervous system.

Marijuana produces its effects by activating this pathway, primarily through the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the drug's main active ingredient.

Researchers have learned that endogenous cannabinoids play a role in tissue protection, immunity and inflammation, among other functions. The cannabinoid system also appears to exert wide influence, modulating the release of dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters.

Cannabinoids might slow down ALS, which destroys neurons that control muscles until victims become paralysed, research showed. Marijuana treatment delays disease progression by more than three years and may extend survival. That's a significant improvement over the only existing ALS drug, riluzole, which extends life by two months.

Researchers at the Institute of Neurology in London announced results showing cannabinoids have also helped some human ALS patients in one small trial. If cannabinoids can shield human neurons from harm, researchers say, they might prove useful against other neurological diseases, including mental illness. Scientists are looking at whether cannabinoids can treat multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Huntington's disease.


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