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The Value of Animal Studies

Much of the research into the effects of cannabinoids on the brain is based on animal studies. Many speakers at the public workshops associated with this study argued that animal studies of marijuana are not relevant to humans. Animal studies are not a substitute for clinical trials, but they are a necessary complement. Ultimately, every biologically active substance exerts its effects at the cellular and molecular levels, and the evidence has shown that this is remarkably consistent among mammals, even those as different in body and mind as rats and humans. Animal studies typically provide information about how drugs work that would not be obtainable in clinical studies. At the same time, animal studies can never inform us completely about the full range of psychological and physiological effects of marijuana or cannabinoids on humans.

The Active Constituents of Marijuana

D9-THC and D8-THC are the only compounds in the marijuana plant that produce all the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Because D9-THC is much more abundant than D8-THC, the psychoactivity of marijuana has been attributed largely to the effects of D9-THC. 11-OH-D9-THC is the primary product of D9-THC metabolism by the liver and is about three times as potent as D9-THC.128

There have been considerably fewer experiments with cannabinoids other than A9-THC, although a few studies have been done to examine whether other cannabinoids modulate the effects of THC or mediate the nonpsychological effects of marijuana. Cannabidiol (CBD) does not have the same psychoactivity as THC, but it was initially reported to attenuate the psychological response to THC in humans;81,177 however, later studies reported that CBD did not attenuate the psychological effects of THC.11,69 One double-blind study of eight volunteers reported that CBD can block the anxiety induced by high doses of THC (0.5 mg/kg).177 There are numerous anecdotal reports claiming that marijuana with relatively higher ratios of THC:CBD is less likely to induce anxiety in the user than marijuana with low THC:CBD ratios; but, taken together, the results published thus far are inconclusive.

The most important effect of CBD seems to be its interference with drug metabolism, including D9-THC metabolism in the liver.14, 114 It exerts that effect by inactivating cytochrome P450s, which are the most important class of enzymes that metabolize drugs. Like many P450 inactivators, CBD can also induce P450s after repeated doses.13 Experiments in which mice were treated with CBD followed by THC showed that CBD treatment was associated with a substantial increase in brain concentrations of

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