A study by the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) showed that the cannabinoid, a substance that can be found in plants of the genus cannabis, can help in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases. The discovery was made by researchers from the Laboratory of Neuroproteomics, Institute of Biology (IB), and published today (27) in the journal European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.
“We know a lot about the effect of cannabinoids, endocannabinoids or synthetics on neurons. We are now learning that these substances also act on glial cells”, says Daniel Martins-de-Souza, one of the researchers. He explains that the name glia means glue in Greek, because, in the past, researchers thought that these cells connected neurons to each other, functioning only as support cells.
Over the past two decades, however, studies have shown that they perform important functions in the brain. The research looked at the interaction of one of these glial cells, called an oligodendrocyte, with cannabinoids. The oligodendrocyte is responsible for producing the myelin sheath, which makes the “covering” of the axons, which are the means of communication between neurons. “For the neuron to be able to talk to another neuron through electrical impulses, it needs a cover on the wire, so to speak”, explains the scholar, comparing it to the wires of an electric power pole.
Faults in glial cells can cause disease. “The myelin sheath is destroyed, for example, in multiple sclerosis, eventually even in Alzheimer’s disease. So the myelin sheath is quite important for the neuron to function. We have always had a very neurocentric view, that is, a lot of the importance of the neuron in the brain, but it will not work well if its accessory cells do not work either, as is the case of the oligodendrocyte”, adds Martins-de-Souza.
With the analysis in vitro, the researchers saw that cannabinoids promote oligodendrocyte proliferation. “All eventual diseases that have oligodendrocyte loss could benefit”, says the specialist. He points out that studies with animals and humans should confirm these data. Research has also shown that with cannabinoids, oligodendrocytes mature better. “This opens up new avenues for us to investigate potential disease treatments.”
Depression and schizophrenia are other illnesses that could benefit from this discovery.
what are cannabinoids
In addition to the cannabinoid extracted from plants of the genus cannabis, the cannabidiol, the human organism itself produces the substance, called endocannabinoid. “It was found that compounds from cannabis bind to receptors in the brain, which have come to be known as cannabinoid receptors. What we discovered a posteriori is that our organism produces substances that interact with these same receptors. All this is called a cannabinoid”, explains the researcher.
The study, therefore, used both compounds extracted from plants of the genus cannabissuch as cannabidiol, the endocannabinoid, and synthetics.