Although cannabis is known to have pain relief properties, it can also make people paranoid. Now a group of biochemists appears to have come up with a means to separate these two properties.

The researchers hope that the breakthrough could lead to legal and safe marijuana-based therapies that do not have unwanted impacts in a person's mood, memory and perception.

Peter McCormick, from the University of East Anglia's (UEA) school of Pharmacy, and colleagues have discovered how the primary psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, the THC, reduces tumor growth in individuals with cancer and their new findings have shown how the THC's cognitive effects such as anxiety and memory loss are prompted by a pathway distinct from some of its other effects such as pain relief.

McCormick and colleagues carried out behavioral studies in mice that were treated with THC to investigate how pathways in the brain work under the chemical.

The researchers found that with a particular serotonin receptor known as 5HT2AR, some of the effects of THC including the ability to trigger memory loss are reduced. Treatments for reducing 5HT2AR, however, were not found to alter the other beneficial effects of THC such as pain relief.

"We found that specific effects of THC such as memory deficits, anxiolytic-like effects, and social interaction are under the control of 5-HT2AR, but its acute hypolocomotor, hypothermic, anxiogenic, and antinociceptive effects are not," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal PLOS Biology on July 9.

McCormick said that their study is crucial as it identifies a method to reduce some of the unwanted side effects of THC while maintaining the helpful benefits of the compound.

"These animals, lacking the serotonin receptor, showed differences only in the memory and mood tests -- not in the pain tests," said McCormick. "There were no side effects in memory, and that's exactly what we were looking for."

Despite the promising results of the study, the researchers warned that patients should not self-medicate. McCormick said that the research could pave way to a safe but synthetic equivalent of THC in the future. Still, the researcher warned that patients should not use weed to self-medicate

"This research is important because it identifies a way to reduce some of what, in medical treatment, are usually thought of as THC's unwanted side effects, while maintaining several important benefits including pain reduction," McCormick said.

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