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Surprising Science

Marijuana Opens New Field of Consciousness Research

Previously thought to be simply the glue binding the brain's neurons, glial cells have proven an important regulator of THC and therefore an important part of how conscious memory works. 

What’s the Latest Development?

By getting mice high on THC, scientists have discovered that the working of the conscious memory is mediated by a kind of cell in the brain, called a glial cell, which was previously dismissed as the glue that holds neurons together. Scientists removed the protein which responds to marijuana’s active ingredient in neurons and then glial cells, but memory was only affected when the glial cells were protein-free. “The results suggest that the role of glia in mental activity has been overlooked. Although research in recent years has revealed that glia are implicated in many unconscious processes and diseases, this is one of the first studies to suggest that glia play a key role in conscious thought.” 

What’s the Big Idea?

Marijuana is well-known to hamper working memory, the short-term kind we need to make a point in a conversation or remember a telephone number. “Although such stupor might give recreational users the giggles, people using the drug for medical reasons might prefer to maintain their cognitive capacity,” says an astute Scientific American. “Unlike THC’s effect on memory, its pain-relieving property appears to work through neurons. In theory, therefore, it might be possible to design THC-type drugs that target neurons—but not glia—and offer pain relief without the forgetfulness.”

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