Cannabis and its controversial use in neuronal disorders


Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis is a flowering plant, the flower, seeds and leaves of which are used chiefly as recreational drugs. They contain a high amount of a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) which is used as psychoactive drugs. Cannabis has been mentioned in ancient literatures such as Vedic literature and the use of it has been mentioned in Sikhism and Buddhism as well. At present, the use of Cannabis is illegal in most of the world. But it has not lost its relevance in regard to treating several medical conditions. Although Cannabis was used as a pharmacological agent for the treatment of pain in the past, its use has become wider in modern medicine. It is used in the treatment of Glaucoma, AIDS wasting, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Recently, there has been a focus on the controversial use of Cannabis and its products in treating neuronal disorders. Cannabis contains THC. There are cannabinoid receptors present in different parts of Brain. Hippocampus, basal ganglia and cerebellum contain the highest concentration of cannabinoid receptor in the brain. So, the intake of Cannabis has effect on memory, muscle movement, balance and coordination executed by these brain parts.

There are very few clinical trials done in regard to the effect of cannabis on neurological disorders. A lot of debate is ongoing about the legalization of cannabis and marijuana for neurological disorders and other medical conditions. In the US, some states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, whereas others have not. But marijuana is shown to be helpful in several neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Marijuana reduces the convulsions and the muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The use  of marijuana in neurological disorder is also worth considering in other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s  as there are a lot of cannabinoid receptor present in the brain areas affected by these diseases.

Many MS patients report that cannabis has a very good response on muscle spasms, balance, bladder control , speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair bound MS patients admitted walking freely after smoking cannabis. The use of cannabis by MS patient in Britain is in rise despite the legal prohibition and obstacles. As many as 4% of the MS patients in Britain use cannabis as reported by the British Multiple Sclerosis Society.



Sleep important for myelin formation in brain

What is Myelin?

Myelin is a fatty sheath that insulates the neurons. It is needed for the fast propagation of signals(saltatory conduction) through neurons. Oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells are responsible for its production in central nervous system and peripheral nervous system respectively. Myelin producing cells in brain are different from neuronal cells as they lack the electrical properties of neurons. They are also called interstitial cells of brain.

The newly discovered relationship between sleep and myelin forming cells:

A recent research published in journal of neuroscience have shown that sleep is vital in the proliferation of oligodendrocytes precursor cells(OPC). Its the OPCs that differentiate into oligodendrocytes during sleep. This means sleep induces the formation of oligodendrocytes in neurons. This research does not tell anything about schwann cells which are responsible for myelin formaion in peripheral neuron.

Why is this finding important?

This finding might be important for neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis where there is loss of myelin.

This further highlights the molecular impact of sleep on brain cells. Not only the sleep beneficial for neuronal cells, but also for interstitial cells like oligodendrocytes.

More oligodendrocytes after sleep means more myelin in your neurons and thus more effective signal propagation.

References and for further reading: