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Enhancing activity of marijuana-like chemicals in brain helps treat

Marijuana-like chemicals in the brain may point to a treatment for the debilitating condition of Parkinson's disease. In a study to be published in the Feb. 8 issue of Nature, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine report that endocannabinoids, naturally occurring chemicals found in the brain that are similar to the active compounds in marijuana and hashish, helped trigger a dramatic improvement in mice with a condition similar to Parkinson's.

"This study points to a potentially new kind of therapy for Parkinson's disease," said senior author Robert Malenka, MD, PhD, the Nancy Friend Pritzker Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "Of course, it is a long, long way to go before this will be tested in humans, but nonetheless, we have identified a new way of potentially manipulating the circuits that are malfunctioning in this disease."

Malenka and postdoctoral scholar Anatol Kreitzer, PhD, the study's lead author, combined a drug already used to treat Parkinson's disease with an experimental compound that can boost the level of endocannabinoids in the brain. When they used the combination in mice with a condition like Parkinson's, the mice went from being frozen in place to moving around freely in 15 minutes. "They were basically normal," Kreitzer said.

But Kreitzer and Malenka cautioned that their findings don't mean smoking marijuana could be therapeutic for Parkinson's disease.

"It turns out the receptors for cannabinoids are all over the brain, but they are not always activated by the naturally occurring endocannabinoids," said Malenka. The treatment used on the mice involves enhancing the activity of the chemicals where they occur naturally in the brain. "That is a really important difference, and it is why we think our manipulation of the chemicals is really different from smoking marijuana."

The researchers began their study by focusing on a region of the br
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Source:Stanford University Medical Center


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