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Marijuana In Detail Marijuana causes long-term changes in the brain similar to those seen with other drugs of abuse Back in the 1970s animal experiments led to groundless fears that marijuana blew holes in brain tissue The experiments organisations like NIDA now fund are more sophisticated but the controversy still rages George Koob an addiction researcher from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla California claims the new message from the animals is simple The more we discover about the neurobiology of addiction the more common elements were seeing between THC tetrahydrocannabinol the main active ingredient in cannabis and other drugs of abuse And for Koob one of these newly discovered common elements is marijaunas ability to trigger chemical changes in the brain that lead to strong withdrawal symptoms In humans some researchers claim to see clear evidence of insomnia anxiety and even flu-like symptoms in heavy cannabis users who abstain But if theres a consensus its that symptoms are mild and variable By contrast Koobs rats are shivering wrecks Does this mean marijuana is more addictive than we think Not a bit of it says Roger Pertwee a university pharmacologist and president of the Cannabinoid Research Society Thats because those symptoms arent so much observed as manufactured The animals are injected with high doses of THC then injected with a second chemical to block cannabis receptors in the brain Without the block the sharp withdrawal symptoms cant be seen because cannabis clears so slowly that even heavily doped rats are likely to experience a gentle wind down Another debate rages over animal studies into the short-term effects of marijuana on brain chemistry Heroin cocaine alcohol and nicotine all trigger a surge in the chemical dopamine in a small midbrain structure called the nucleus accumbens Many researchers regard this as a hallmark of an addictive substance Last year experiments showed that cannabis presses the same dopamine button in
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