An international group led by Vanderbilt University researchers has found cannabinoid receptors, through which marijuana exerts its effects, in a key emotional hub in the brain involved in regulating anxiety and the flight-or-fight response.
This is the first time cannabinoid receptors have been identified in the central nucleus of the amygdala in a mouse model, they report in the current issue of the journal Neuron.
The discovery may help explain why marijuana users say they take the drug mainly to reduce anxiety, said Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D., the paper’s senior author and professor of Psychiatry and of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.
Led by first author Teniel Ramikie, a graduate student in Patel’s lab, the researchers also showed for the first time how nerve cells in this part of the brain make and release their own natural “endocannabinoids.”
The study “could be highly important for understanding how cannabis exerts its behavioral effects,” Patel said. As the legalization of marijuana spreads across the country, more people — and especially young people whose brains are still developing — are being exposed to the drug.
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