‘Cannabis’ Receptor Helps Scientists Understand Obesity And Disorders

New reports from Aberdeen scientists conclude cannabis is the key to understanding the conditions that lead to obesity, and other disorders related to addiction.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is expected to lead to personalized therapy to help patients struggling with extreme weight issues, according to Phys.Org.

The scientists, who work together at the Kosterlitz Center for Therapeutics, focus on the genetic differences pertaining to the gene CNR1, the same gene that work as receptors in the brain for cannabinoids, the active part of cannabis.

The receptors activate parts of the brain involved in memory, mood, appetite and pain.

The same receptors that are activated by Cannabinoids are triggered by chemicals produced naturally in our bodies called endocannabinoids.

Chemicals found in the drug cannabis mimic the action of these endocannabinoids and the scientists reported finding growing evidence that cannabis has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties which can help treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

To understand more about these side effects and genetic factors which determine how people respond, and differences around the CNR1 gene.

Team leader Dr. Alasdair MacKenzie said, “We chose to look at one specific genetic difference in CNR1 because we know it is linked to obesity and addiction. What we found was a mutation that caused a change in the genetic switch for the gene itself—a switch that is very ancient and has remained relatively unchanged in over three hundred million years of evolution, since before the time of the dinosaurs.  These genetic switches regulate the gene itself, ensuring that it is turned on or off in the right place at the right time and in the right amount.

“It is normally thought that mutations cause disease by reducing the function of the gene, or the switch that controls it.  In this case however, the mutation actually increased the activity of the switch in parts of the brain that control appetite and pain, and also—and most especially—in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is affected in psychosis.”

Another doctor who assisted in discovering the genetic difference in the switch, Dr. Scott Davidson, said analyzing the mutation will help people understand side effects associated with using cannabis, such as addiction and psychosis.

The scientists believe that changes in gene switches are involved in causing side effects to drugs, and because of this, they will be able to develop personalized medicine with fewer side effects.

The overactive genetic switch is more common in African populations than Europeans, so the scientists believe it decreased in early ancesters somewhere between migrating from Africa to Central Asia towards Europe.

Dr. MacKenzie said, “One possibility we are keen to explore is that once in Central Asia these early migrants came into contact with the cannabis plant, which we know was endemic across that area at that time. It is possible that the side effects of taking cannabis were such that people with the mutation were not so effective in producing and raising children. Therefore, over the generations the numbers of people with the mutation decreased. This work is at a very early stage however, and there are likely to be more exciting discoveries—not only on how these differences came about, but also about the role of this genetic switch in health and disease.”