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As many U.S. states slowly begin to relax their grip on marijuana prohibition, researchers are increasingly able to get access to cannabis in order to explore its medical benefits and risks. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience is exploring one of these potential risks, identifying a “potential unifying mechanism whereby marijuana could exert rewarding and addictive/withdrawal effects” on juvenile and adolescent cannabis users.
Researchers from the Brigham Young University in Utah conducted a series of experiments to see how THC affects the brains of juvenile and adolescent mice. The researchers focused on the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, which contains receptors for two important brain chemicals, dopamine and GABA. These two neurotransmitters are involved with the brain’s motivational system, which rewards behaviors like eating or having sex by making these activities feel pleasurable.
The researchers gave the young mice one injection of THC every day for 7 to 10 consecutive days and discovered that these injections altered the synaptic plasticity of the mice’s VTA cells, decreasing their ability to strengthen or weaken in response…