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Marijuana-Like Chemical May Have Role in
Schizoprhenia; Findings Raise Questions of Treatment


Summer 1999

According to researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), the cerebrospinal fluid of schizophrenics contains twice the normal levels of anandamide, a chemical that resembles THC, the active ingredient in marijuana (F.M. Leweke, A. Giuffrida, U. Wurster, H.M. Emrich, and D. Piomelli, "Elevated endogenous cannabinoids in schizophrenia," Neuroreport, vol. 10, no. 83, June 1999, pp. 1665-1669; "Cannabis May Help Combat Schizophrenia," Orange County Register, May 18, 1999; Jonathan Knight, "Are People With Schizophrenia Drawn to Smoking Pot?" New Scientist, May 29, 1999, p. 7; Reuters, "Schizophrenia Brain Chemical Like Marijuana," Toronto Star, June 12, 1999).

Anandamide is a naturally produced lipid that binds to the same receptors in the brain as marijuana. Previous research on animals has shown that anandamide blocks production of dopamine. Overactivity of the dopamine system is a suspected cause of schizophrenia, a disease that affects about 1% of the U.S. population. The higher levels of anandamide indicate that the body of schizophrenic patients may be producing the chemical to compensate for a hyperactive dopamine system. However, the brain cannot produce high enough levels of anandamide to lower dopamine levels, according to researchers. Persons who suffer from schizophrenia often smoke marijuana and some researchers believe patients may be treating themselves with the drug.

However, according to Daniele Piomelli, one of the UCI researchers, who conducted a study of 10 patients with schizophrenia, it is possible that anandamide might play a role in schizophrenia, rather than relieve its symptoms. "The idea is to develop novel medicines that use marijuana as a model without the side effects," he said. Piomelli's group plans to expand their study to 200 patients.

Daniele Piomelli, Associate Professor - U.C. Irvine, Pharmacology Dept., Room #311, 313 NRF, Irvine, CA 92697, Tel: (949) 824-6771, Fax: (949) 824-4855, E-mail: <>.