Scripps Research Team Wins $4 Million Grant to Study Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use

Fri Mar 14 09:23:01 2008 Pacific Time

      Scripps Research Team Wins $4 Million
Grant to Study Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use

LA JOLLA, Calif., March 14 (AScribe
Newswire) — A group of investigators led by The Scripps Research Institute’s
Professor Barbara Mason has won a $4 million grant from the National Institute
of Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the
effects of chronic marijuana use, including influence on brain function and the
consequences of withdrawal.

“I’m really excited about the
opportunity that this grant offers,” says Mason. “It’s time to get some clarity
on how cannabis use impacts cognitive function, induces withdrawal symptoms, and
affects the body’s stress systems. This is important information. People are
deciding every day whether to use or not to use marijuana, for medical purposes
or otherwise, and there is little scientific information to advise this
decision.”

The NIDA grant will fund the startup of
a new Translational Center on the Clinical Neurobiology of Cannabis Addiction,
the first such center to be dedicated to studying the neurobiology of cannabis
dependence. The ultimate goal of this research is to help develop novel
approaches to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of marijuana addiction.

According to the Office of National Drug
Control Policy, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug. The 2006
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated 97.8 million Americans
aged 12 or older had tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes; 25.4
million had used marijuana in the past year.

Of those admitted to treatment programs
for drug addition in 2005, marijuana was the primary drug for 292,250 people or
15.8 percent.

A NEW CENTER FOR RESEARCH

The issue of cannabis dependence first
came to Mason’s attention during her work on alcohol addiction. When recruiting
patients for alcoholism clinical trials, she noticed that a number of candidates
expressed the need of treatment for dependence on cannabis. She subsequently
applied for an exploratory grant from NIDA to study the issue, which provided
preliminary data for the foundation of the new center.

“While there are some people who have a
problem with both alcohol and cannabis, many individuals are dependent on
cannabis alone,” she noted. “The estimate is that about four percent of those
who use cannabis eventually become addicted to it.”

The new center will pool the talent of
several laboratories to learn more about addiction to cannabis and the
consequences of withdrawal. In addition to Mason, who holds the Pearson Family
Chair at Scripps Research, the center’s principal investigators will include
Scripps Research Associate Professor Michael Taffe, Scripps Research Associate
Professor Loren Parsons, and University of California, San Diego, Associate
Professor Susan Tapert.

The researchers and their teams will
draw on complementary expertise in tissue analysis, imaging, animal models, and
human clinical trials to understand the condition of marijuana addiction from a
variety of perspectives. Techniques will include neuropsychological measures,
biochemical analyses, and functional MRI.

Some of the center’s initial projects
will address questions such as the exact nature and duration of cognitive
impairment caused by marijuana use; the role of development (for example,
adolescence vs. young adulthood) on susceptibility to addiction; the effects of
cannabis on the central nervous system; and the characteristics of withdrawal
after long-term use.

The center will also contain a training
component to mentor the next generation of researchers in the field.

“It’s time we shed the light of science
onto the topic of marijuana addiction,” Masons says. “There is a lot we need to
know in order to develop effective treatments.”

If you are interested in enrolling as a
subject for the center’s studies, call 858-784-7867.

– – – –

CONTACT: Keith McKeown, Scripps Research
Institute Communications, 858-784-8134, kmckeown@scripps.edu

ABOUT THE SCRIPPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE:
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world’s largest independent,
non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic
biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of
life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in
immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences,
autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic vaccine
development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs
approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other
technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical
support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It
also includes Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical
science, drug discovery, and technology development. Currently operating from
temporary facilities in Jupiter, Scripps Florida will move to its permanent
campus in 2009.

Media Contact: See above.


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