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J Neurosci. 2001 Sep 1;21(17):6475-9.

Neuroprotection by Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active compound in marijuana, against ouabain-induced in vivo excitotoxicity.

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Department of Bio-Organic Chemistry, Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research, 3584 CH, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Excitotoxicity is a paradigm used to explain the biochemical events in both acute neuronal damage and in slowly progressive, neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we show in a longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging study that Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta(9)-THC), the main active compound in marijuana, reduces neuronal injury in neonatal rats injected intracerebrally with the Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase inhibitor ouabain to elicit excitotoxicity. In the acute phase Delta(9)-THC reduced the volume of cytotoxic edema by 22%. After 7 d, 36% less neuronal damage was observed in treated rats compared with control animals. Coadministration of the CB(1) cannabinoid receptor antagonist SR141716 prevented the neuroprotective actions of Delta(9)-THC, indicating that Delta(9)-THC afforded protection to neurons via the CB(1) receptor. In Delta(9)-THC-treated rats the volume of astrogliotic tissue was 36% smaller. The CB(1) receptor antagonist did not block this effect. These results provide evidence that the cannabinoid system can serve to protect the brain against neurodegeneration.

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