Medical cannabis can reduce this brain disorder, study finds

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In a new study, researchers found medical cannabis could help reduce essential tremor, a nervous system (neurological) disorder that causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Copenhagen.

Tremor can affect almost any part of the body, but the trembling occurs most often in hands — especially when people do simple tasks, such as drinking from a glass or tying shoelaces.

It can be extremely inhibitory and seriously reduce the patient’s quality of life.

Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis and in the central nervous system.

In the study, the team found that a specific synthetic cannabinoid (cannabinoid WIN55,212-2) reduces essential tremors by activating the support cells of the spinal cord and brain, known as astrocytes.

Previous research into medical cannabis has focussed on the nerve cells, the so-called neurons.

The current team discovered that an injection with the cannabinoid WIN55,212-2 into the spinal cord turns on the astrocytes in the spinal cord and prompts them to release the substance adenosine, which subsequently reduces nerve activity and thus the undesired shaking.

That astrocytes are part of the explanation for the effect of cannabis is a completely new approach to understanding the medical effect of cannabis, and it may help improve the treatment of patients suffering from involuntary shaking.

The spinal cord is responsible for most of our movements. Both voluntary and spontaneous movements are triggered when the spinal cord’s motor neurons are activated.

The motor neurons connect the spinal cord with the muscles, and each time a motor neuron sends impulses to the muscles, it leads to contraction and thus movement.

Involuntary shaking occurs when the motor neurons send out conflicting signals at the same time. And that is why the researchers have focussed on the spinal cord.

The team hopes to develop a new approach that uses medical cannabis to treat shaking.

This new approach will avoid affecting the neurons in the brain responsible for our memory and cognitive abilities, and doctors would be able to offer patients suffering from involuntary shaking effective treatment without exposing them to any of the most problematic side effects of medical cannabis.

The study is published in Nature Neuroscience. One author of the study is Associate Professor Jean-François Perrier.

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