Thursday, April 17, 2008

Scripps Research Team Wins $4 Million Grant to Study Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use

LA JOLLA, Calif., March 14 (AScribe Newswire) -- A group of
investigators led by The Scripps Research Institute's Professor
Barbara Mason has won a $4 million grant from the National Institute
of Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to
study the effects of chronic marijuana use, including influence on
brain function and the consequences of withdrawal.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity that this grant offers,"
says Mason. "It's time to get some clarity on how cannabis use
impacts cognitive function, induces withdrawal symptoms, and affects
the body's stress systems. This is important information. People are
deciding every day whether to use or not to use marijuana, for
medical purposes or otherwise, and there is little scientific
information to advise this decision."

The NIDA grant will fund the startup of a new Translational Center on
the Clinical Neurobiology of Cannabis Addiction, the first such
center to be dedicated to studying the neurobiology of cannabis
dependence. The ultimate goal of this research is to help develop
novel approaches to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of
marijuana addiction.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana is
the most commonly used illegal drug. The 2006 National Survey on Drug
Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated 97.8 million Americans aged 12 or
older had tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes; 25.4
million had used marijuana in the past year.

Of those admitted to treatment programs for drug addition in 2005,
marijuana was the primary drug for 292,250 people or 15.8 percent.

A New Center for Research

The issue of cannabis dependence first came to Mason's attention
during her work on alcohol addiction. When recruiting patients for
alcoholism clinical trials, she noticed that a number of candidates
expressed the need of treatment for dependence on cannabis. She
subsequently applied for an exploratory grant from NIDA to study the
issue, which provided preliminary data for the foundation of the new center.

"While there are some people who have a problem with both alcohol and
cannabis, many individuals are dependent on cannabis alone," she
noted. "The estimate is that about four percent of those who use
cannabis eventually become addicted to it."

The new center will pool the talent of several laboratories to learn
more about addiction to cannabis and the consequences of withdrawal.
In addition to Mason, who holds the Pearson Family Chair at Scripps
Research, the center's principal investigators will include Scripps
Research Associate Professor Michael Taffe, Scripps Research
Associate Professor Loren Parsons, and University of California, San
Diego, Associate Professor Susan Tapert.

The researchers and their teams will draw on complementary expertise
in tissue analysis, imaging, animal models, and human clinical trials
to understand the condition of marijuana addiction from a variety of
perspectives. Techniques will include neuropsychological measures,
biochemical analyses, and functional MRI.

Some of the center's initial projects will address questions such as
the exact nature and duration of cognitive impairment caused by
marijuana use; the role of development (for example, adolescence vs.
young adulthood) on susceptibility to addiction; the effects of
cannabis on the central nervous system; and the characteristics of
withdrawal after long-term use.

The center will also contain a training component to mentor the next
generation of researchers in the field.

"It's time we shed the light of science onto the topic of marijuana
addiction," Masons says. "There is a lot we need to know in order to
develop effective treatments."

If you are interested in enrolling as a subject for the center's
studies, call 858-784-7867.

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CONTACT: Keith McKeown, Scripps Research Institute Communications,

About the Scripps Research Institute: The Scripps Research Institute
is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical
research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science
that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life.
Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in
immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences,
autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic
vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in
1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral
fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate
students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps
Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It also includes
Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical science,
drug discovery, and technology development. Currently operating from
temporary facilities in Jupiter, Scripps Florida will move to its
permanent campus in 2009.

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