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Marijuana and the Human Brain

Cannabinoid receptors

Research has enabled scientists to know which portions of the brain control various body functions, and this knowledge has been used to explain the pharmacological properties of drugs that activate receptor sites in the brain.

There is a dense concentration of cannabinoid binding sites in the basal ganglia and the cerebellum of the base-brain, both of which affect movement and coordination. This discovery will aid in determining the actual physical mechanism by which THC affects spasticity and provides therapeutic benefits to patients with multiple sclerosis and other spastic disorders.

While there are cannabinoid receptors in the ventromedial striatum and basal ganglia which are areas associated with dopamine production, no cannabinoid receptors have been found in dopamine-producing neurons, and as mentioned above, no reinforcing properties have been demonstrated in animal studies.

There is one study by Gardner and Lowinson, involving inbred Lewis rats, in which doses of THC lowered the amount of electrical stimulation required to trigger the brain reward system. However, no one has been able to replicate the results with any other species of rat, or any other animal. The finding is believed to be the result of some inbred genetic variation in the inbred species, and is both widely mentioned in the literature and disregarded.

According to Herkenham and his associates, "There are virtually no reports of fatal cannabis overdose in humans. The safety reflects the paucity of receptors in medullary nuclei that mediate respiratory and cardiovascular functions." This is also why cannabinoids have great promise as analgesics or painkillers, in that they do not depress the function of the heart or the lungs. In this respect, they are far superior to opiates, which decrease the entire physiological system because the receptors are all over the medulla as well as the brain.

Marijuana is distinguished from most other illicit drugs by the locations of its brain-receptor sites for two predominant reasons: (1) The lack of receptors in the medulla significantly reduces the possibility of accidental, or even deliberate, death from THC, and (2) the lack of receptors in the mesocorticolimbic pathway significantly reduces the risks of addiction and serious physical dependence. As a therapeutic drug, these features are God's greatest gifts.

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