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Science for Potheads: Why People Love to Get High

There's so much misunderstanding around marijuana. Here's what's really happening to people when they smoke weed.

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According to Judith Horstman in “The Scientific American Brave New Brain,” learning is a product of memory formation. Memories are created “when messages are sent across the tiny gaps between neurons called synapses… A memory is held in the connections made by this network and firmly established when a network of synapses is strengthened… Over time, this net of memories can be strengthened further, weakened, or broken, depending on your brain chemistry, your genes, and your actions.”

So, these networks can be viewed as grooves that get dug and create underlying structure. Information gets trained to the tracks. So what if the well-dug groove becomes maladaptive, or even detrimental to survival? What if the dug groove was grounded in misinformation? What if the underlying structure distorts the information running through it? How do you realize it? (How does the body realize it?) How do you know to jump the tracks? And if you do jump them, jump them into what?

Unlearning, or pattern breaking, under certain circumstances is critical to the ability of life itself to persist. It may be equally important in organisms, organizations and even software to have a mechanism for pattern interruption when changes in the environment make a formerly useful pattern destructive. The interruption serves as a reset button and causes the system to reassess and aim for optimizing in current reality as opposed to maintaining historical patterns.

The researchers who work with cannabis, the cannabinoid system and cannabis science often refer to cannabinoids as working like “grease” and facilitating transitions from one state to another, and as allowing change. Certainly, more study in these areas is desirable, and necessary. But the federal government systematically blocks such studies.

Whereas clinical researchers can get permission from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to grow or create restricted compounds like LSD, MDMA or psilocybin in the lab, they are unable to do so when it comes to marijuana.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) currently is funding a nearly $2 million study in an attempt to find a link between marijuana use and domestic violence, even though a  recent study published by the journal Neuropharmacology has found that cannabinoids may reduce aggression and improve social interactions.

Despite such obstacles to research, there are more than 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature pertaining to the cannabis plant and cannabinoids. Other countries, such as Israel, are moving ahead to study cannabis’ therapeutic applications.

The paradigm is changing for marijuana in America. According to Thomas S. Kuhn in his landmark book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”:

The decision to reject one paradigm is always the simultaneous decision to accept another, and the judgment leading to that decision involves the comparison of both paradigms with nature and with each other… [T]he transition of a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from a cumulative process, one achieved by the articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals, a reconstruction that changes some of the field’s most elementary theoretical generalizations.

We may be in for exciting times.The cannabinoid system is an ancient one. Life organized around it. The illegal status of marijuana is less than 100 years old. Political institutions and economic interests organized around it.

How the cannabinoid system functions may be a door to more secrets about the workings of our physiology. And, as when we figured out that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, it might shake up some faulty premises and challenge the work of authorities.

 
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