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Suffering from stress can impair learning and memory abilities. But researchers at the University of Haifa, led by Irit Akirav, Ph.D of the Department of Psychology, were able to reduce many of these impairments using synthetic cannabinoids in rat models of chronic stress.
Two of their studies were recently published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
In the first study, rats were exposed to chronic restraint stress daily for 2 weeks, with the synthetic cannabinoid WIN55,212-2 being given to one group of animals at the end of every day. Cannabinoid treatment was able to reduce the negative impact of stress on short-term memory and long-term potentiation – an important learning and memory mechanism of the brain.
The second study, published just last week, found cannabinoid treatment effective in reversing impairments from stress-related depression. Using WIN55,212-2 again, the researchers observed a reduction in memory impairments as well as various symptoms of depression (including behavioral and weight changes) in a rat model of chronic mild stress.
In both sets of experiments, the CB1 pathway seemed to be responsible for the protection. CB1 receptors are found in high concentrations in the brain and are also activated by THC in marijuana.
While more research is needed, Dr. Akirav and her colleagues conclude that cannabinoid activity could be a “novel approach to the treatment of cognitive deficits” that accompany “stress-related depression” and other “stress-related neurospychiatric disorders.”
The studies were published ahead of print and received funding from the Israel Science Foundation and the Hope for Depression Research Foundation