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See Inside August/September 2006

Natural High

The brain produces its own "marijuana-like" chemicals to protect neurons, and researchers hope to exploit these compounds to ease anxiety, obesity and addiction

Chemically speaking, we are all potheads. Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University in Jerusalem discovered that astounding fact in 1992, and now the reasons why are finally emerging. Numerous experiments with genetically altered mice and rats have shown that when natural brain compounds, called endocannabinoids, are missing or their receptors are blocked, the animals are more susceptible to pain, cannot control their appetites, have trouble handling anxiety and are less able to cope with stress.

By fully understanding and then harnessing the endocannabinoid mechanisms, researchers are eager to devise new ways to reduce pain, calm anxiety, fight obesity, stop nicotine addiction and even treat traumatic shock and Parkinson's disease--without the unwanted side effects of smoking marijuana.

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