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Marijuana-Like Compound Banishes Fear

Study Points to New Treatments for Anxiety, PTSD
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"This study is another demonstration that extinction is a fundamental form of learning that takes place in the brain," Michael Davis, PhD, tells WebMD. We are beginning to understand this new form of learning in terms of what parts of the brain are involved and what neurochemicals are involved." Davis is professor of psychiatry and head of the Fear Collaboratory at Emory University, Atlanta.

"The implications are very exciting," Aron H. Lichtman, PhD, tells WebMD. "Perhaps there could be drugs of this sort that could be used to alleviate PTSD and other conditions." Lichtman, a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, studies the effects of cannabinoids on the brain.

Would marijuana itself help people overcome fearful memories? Lutz thinks not.

"If you flood the brain with marijuana, I don't know if it would be beneficial," Lutz says. "The very important thing is if one influences the cannabinoid system, you have to do it along with psychotherapy [talk therapy]. Because you can only extinguish the memory at the time you recall it. It is good for psychotherapists to discuss with patients the aversive events they experienced. The more you do this, you extinguish this memory. So to support such a psychotherapy, you could maybe influence the extinction system by increasing cannabinoid levels."

Lutz thinks that marijuana, or even a more specific cannabinoid, would likely affect too much of the brain. He says a better idea would be to develop a drug that slows the normally rapid breakdown of cannabinoids in the brain.

"There are quite a few research groups working on this," Lichtman says. "The idea is instead of treating with marijuana, to treat with inhibitors of the enzyme that breaks down natural cannabinoids."

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