THC protects against nerve damage caused by ecstasy
The main psychoactive compound in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), protects against brain damage caused by methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as the drug ecstasy, according to a published study.
“In this study, we show that THC prevents MDMA neurotoxicity not only at room temperature, in which brain damage is mild, but also at warm temperature, where the neurotoxic effects of MDMA are strongly enhanced,” the authors of the report, Clara Tourino, Andreas Zimmer and Olga Valverde, said.
While ecstasy has a low risk for addiction, studies on mice and primates have found that prolonged use of the drug can produce losses of serotonin and dopamine nerve terminals. The nerve damage caused by ecstasy is associated with the increase in body temperature that it causes, a phenomenon known as hyperthermia.
“One of the most effective mechanisms to minimize MDMA neurotoxicity is to reduce hyperthermia by decreasing ambient temperature or using antithermic drugs to control body temperature,” the authors explained.
The study found that THC prevented hyperthermia in mice that were administered ecstasy. In addition, the mice that were administered both THC and MDMA suffered less nerve damage than mice who were only administered MDMA.
The striatum of mice administered both THC and ecstasy were similar to mice who had been administered a harmless saline solution. In contrast, the striatum of mice administered only MDMA showed an altered structure, suggesting dopamine nerves had been damaged.
The ability of THC to protect against nerve damage caused by ecstasy is a product of THC’s effect on cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1), a neuroreceptor located in various structures of the brain, according to the study. THC’s interaction with the receptor appears to prevent the hyperthermia caused by ecstasy.
“The hypothermic effects of THC are well known, suggesting that THC might be a good candidate to prevent MDMA-induced hyperthermia and neurotoxicity,” the authors of the study said.
“Although it has been previously reported that other drugs reducing MDMA-induced hyperthermia also reduced MDMA neurotoxicity, these drugs are not used by potential MDMA users,” they added . “On the contrary, 95% of MDMA users also consume cannabis and, consequentially, THC.”
The study was published in the open access journal PLoS One in February 2010.