Medical benefits of cannabis can be separated from unwanted side effects

Cannabis plant marijuana

The psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — has medical benefits, including providing pain relief to patients, but it also has unwanted side effects such as changes in mood, memory or perception.

To find out whether these wanted and unwanted effects can be separated, researchers set up a behavioural study involving mice, published in
PLoS Biology

(online, 9 July 2015). They found that the absence of the serotonin receptor 5-HT2AR in the animals reduced some of the unwanted side effects of THC, including memory loss. The team discovered that treatment to inhibit the effects of the receptor in mice did not alter benefits of THC such as pain relief.

The researchers believe that the mechanism discovered in the study could be a target of future drug development that aims to retain the medical benefits of cannabis but not its unwanted side effects in humans.


[1] Viñals X, Moreno E, Lanfumey L et al. Cognitive impairment induced by delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol occurs through heteromers between cannabinoid CB1 and serotonin 5-HT 2A receptors. PLoS Biology 2015. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002194.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 25 July/1 August 2015, Vol 295, No 7872/3;295(7872/3):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20068962

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