New research suggests that the naturally occurring endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) — a compound similar to marijuana’s active ingredient, THC — could be manipulated to treat pain and alleviate marijuana dependence.
Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York found that by inhibiting specific fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs), which transport AEA, they were able to decrease AEA breakdown by 50 percent. AEA is involved in brain processes related to pain, memory, and appetite.
“Inhibiting FABPs could potentially raise the levels of AEA in the brain’s synapses,” lead author Dale Deutsch said, potentially limiting pain without negative side effects.
“From a theoretical viewpoint, this approach could be used for treating marijuana addiction,” added Nora Volkow director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study. “Compounds that inhibit FABPs could produce an effect similar to nicotine patches for smokers or methadone for opiate replacement. This line of research may also be important for other types of addiction, such as chronic alcohol abuse, which also affects AEA levels”
The study was published March 16, 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.