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Addiction – so complicated, I need a map!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

We know that drugs and chocolate are addictive. We get a taste, and our brains tell us we want more! But WHY?

The brain has special delivery systems that help drugs reach their target. The cannabinoid system is one of these express commuter trains.

Jossi Hirvonen uses PET scans to visualize brain activity and cannabinoids in action.

Hirvonen wondered whether this delivery system looks different among tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana users. Does cannabinoid activity map out differently for those who don’t use drugs?

He gave participants a radioactive dye which highlights the cannabinoid system. He then tracked areas that respond and light up with activity across the brain. What did he see?

Tobacco smokers had low counts of cannabinoid receptors compared to non-smokers. This lower count of receptors was found across the entire brain. BUT, marijuana and alcohol users only lacked receptors in localized regions.

These results may help scientists brainstorm TOTALLY new ways to treat addiction.

Now that study is DOPE!