In this week’s cannabis news round-up, scientists unveil the brain mechanism behind what causes the “munchies”; NFL and players union extend funding for independent CBD research to combat opioid use; and the Czech government’s new cannabis regulation bill leaves many dissatisfied.
Scientists Unveil Brain Mechanism Behind What Causes ‘The Munchies’
Cannabis has long been associated with the phenomenon of “the munchies,” and now, researchers at Washington State University have unveiled a critical brain mechanism that drives appetite, as revealed in a series of animal studies.
The groundbreaking discovery, detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, has the potential to pave the way for refined therapeutics targeting appetite disorders faced by cancer patients, individuals dealing with anorexia and even those struggling with obesity.
In their experiment, the scientists exposed mice to vaporized cannabis sativa and employed advanced calcium imaging technology, akin to a brain MRI, to analyze the response of brain cells. The results were astonishing. Cannabis activated a specific set of cells in the hypothalamus when the mice anticipated and consumed appetizing food—cells that remained dormant in unexposed mice.
“When the mice are given cannabis, neurons come on that typically aren’t active,” Jon Davis, an assistant professor of neuroscience at WSU and the corresponding author of the paper, said. “There’s something important happening in the hypothalamus after vapor cannabis.”
While calcium imaging has previously been utilized to study the brain’s reactions to food, this study marks the first known instance of its application to understand the impact of cannabis exposure on these neural responses.
As part of their research, the scientists also pinpointed the cannabinoid-1 receptor, a well-known cannabis target, as the regulator of a particular group of “feeding” cells in the hypothalamus known as Agouti Related Protein neurons. Armed with this knowledge, they employed a “chemogenetic” technique, acting like a molecular light switch, to selectively activate these neurons when animals were exposed to cannabis. Surprisingly, when these neurons were deactivated, cannabis ceased to stimulate appetite.
“We now know one of the ways that the brain responds to adult-use-type cannabis to promote appetite,” Davis said.
This work builds upon earlier research conducted in Davis’ lab, which was among the pioneers to employ whole vaporized cannabis plant matter in animal studies instead of injected THC, aiming to mimic human cannabis consumption more accurately. Their previous work had identified genetic changes in the hypothalamus as a response to cannabis exposure, motivating Davis and his team to focus on this particular brain region in the current study.
NFL and Players Union Extend Funding for Independent CBD Research to Combat Opioid Use
The National Football League (NFL) and its players union have jointly announced a new round of funding to support independent research aimed at exploring the therapeutic potential of CBD as a pain management alternative to opioids, particularly for players dealing with concussions.
This initiative follows an announcement in 2022 in which the NFL and the players’ union revealed their commitment to funding research to investigate the possible benefits of CBD. The strong interest expressed by players and various stakeholders underscored the importance of this research.
According to the study’s overview, it will “investigate anti-inflammatory and neuroprotection of the CBD formulation to determine whether it can be used daily safely during intensive exercise (resistance) training during the off-season before competition.”
The NFL underwent a notable transformation in its drug testing policy in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement. Under this agreement, players are no longer at risk of suspension from games due to positive drug tests, extending beyond just cannabis to encompass various substances. This shift in policy mirrors a broader trend observed across sports leagues as the movement for state-level cannabis legalization continues to gain momentum.
The Czech Government’s New Cannabis Regulation Bill Leaves Many Dissatisfied
The Czech government has unveiled a draft of a cannabis regulation bill that notably omits the previously anticipated regulated cannabis market. The Pirates party, a longstanding advocate for cannabis legalization, has described the document as a “compromise version” and is determined to negotiate amendments to the proposed legislation.
In its current form, the bill outlines regulations for legal cultivation, the operation of cannabis clubs, licensed sales and exports and taxation. It also imposes limitations on production and sales while suggesting the registration of users, small-scale growers and cannabis clubs.
Jindřich Vobořil, the national anti-drug coordinator who played a role in drafting the bill, has cited Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta as countries adopting a similar approach. The Pirates party aims to initiate discussions about expanding the bill to include provisions for pilot testing of a regulated cannabis market.
Vobořil believes that a regulated cannabis market could offer better control and prevention while potentially generating significant tax revenue for the state. He remains optimistic about the possibility of introducing such a market, stating, “I am not giving up. There is a chance.”
Klara Kocmanová, a member of the Pirates party, expressed her support for the bill, contending that the existing criminalization approach to cannabis has proven ineffective. She believes the proposed legislation could lead to more effective prevention and addiction treatment.
Other pro-legalization groups, including the Safe Cannabis Association, CzecHemp and Legalizace.cz, have welcomed the draft, particularly its end to punishments for personal cannabis use. Yet, they argue that the absence of provisions for a strictly regulated market represents a “fundamental gap” in the legislation, failing to address the issue of illegal producers and dealers, which they see as a risk to young people and society.
This proposal is part of the Czech government’s broader plan to combat addiction through a series of measures until the end of 2025. It emphasizes that the regulation of addictive substances should correspond to the level of harm they pose. The government is also committed to implementing a policy grounded in a “scientifically proven and balanced approach to risk prevention and harm reduction” in addressing addiction.
Presently, cannabis is decriminalized in Czechia, but adult-use use remains illegal. Czechia has one of the more lenient stances on cannabis in Europe, permitting individuals to cultivate up to five cannabis plants at home for personal use. Medical marijuana has been legal in the country for a decade.