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Russian scientists discover body’s own ‘cannabis’ fights epilepsy and brain damage

Scientists presume that activating the endogenic cannabinoid system may also work towards curing brain damage caused by neurotoxins

MOSCOW, March 24. /TASS/ Scientists from RAS’ Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics (ITEB RAS) and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have demonstrated that analogues of cannabis-acting substances produced by the body are very effective disease-fighting agents, the MIPT press office said. The results of the study have been published in the journal, Brain Research.

"We have shown that symptoms of epilepsy might substantially subside or be completely blocked if the test animals are injected with the epilepsy-simulating substances together with the formula triggering the activity of the endocannabinoid system of the brain," Chief of the Laboratory of System Organization of Neurons at ITEB RAS and Doctor of Biological Sciences Valentina Kichigina said.

Epilepsy, the brain and cannabinoids

Epilepsy is one the most wide-spread chronic human neurologic diseases which appears as repetitive, convulsive attacks in the various parts of a person’s brain. If a hotbed of epilepsy is pinpointed in the temporal lobe, it is diagnosed as the so-called "temporal lobe epilepsy" and it was precisely this form of the illness that the Russian scientists’ research focused on.

Nowadays, there are no set ways of curing temporal lobe epilepsy. In the case of a severe form of epilepsy or a form resistant to cures, the subject undergoes the removal of the hippocampus where the epileptic convulsions are developed. The hippocampus is a part of the brain located in the temporal lobe, which is responsible for shaping short-term memory and for further converting information into long-term memory. For that reason, after the removal of the hippocampus, a subject is no longer capable of memorizing new information. This motivated scientists to keep on searching for new ways of protecting the hippocampus from developing epilepsy.

Cannabinoids are substances which are contained in cannabis. The bodies of animals and human also produce cannabinoids which are referred as "endocannabinoids" as they are formed internally. Endocannabinoids support homeostasis of the brain, modulate the release of substances affecting the brain both in exciting and inhibitory manners. They also participate in regulating the body’s immune system.


The biologists modeled the evolution of temporal lobe epilepsy for the case of guinea-pigs making use of the neurotoxin affecting the so-called epileptic status after the injection into the animal’s body. Afterward, the substances stimulating the activity of endocannabinoid system were injected into the animal’s brain.

It turned out that activating the release of endocannabinoids normalizes the electric activity in the brain and reduces the imbalances in the hippocampus’ activity. Moreover, endocannabinoids protect the hippocampus’ cells. Regardless of the effect of a neurotoxin, the hippocampus remained virtually undamaged.

Scientists presume that activating the endogenic cannabinoid system may not only help fight epilepsy but may also work towards curing brain damage caused by neurotoxins.