Canadian animal study links cannabinoids to improved eyesight
The researchers used a number of different methods, including software developed with McGill physics and chemistry professor Paul Wiseman, to test how tadpoles reacted to visual stimuli when they exposed them to increased levels of endogenous or exogenous cannabinoids
– the active compounds in marijuana.
They discovered the opposite of what they expected – activating cannabinoids signaling in the tadpoles increased activity in their retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which are the cells that transmit information about light detection from the eye to the brain. This surprised them because previous studies have found that cannabinoids typically reduce neurotransmission rather than increase it.
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“Initially you distrust yourself when you see something that goes against widely held ideas, but we tried the experiment so many times, using diverse techniques, and it was a consistent result,” said senior study author Ed Ruthazer, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University.
“So then we knew we had to figure out what was going on. The first tendency is to want to ignore it. But it was such a strong effect, we knew there was something important here,” he added.
Researchers note that the eyesight benefits is due to the CB1R receptor
The researchers attributed one specific class of cannabinoid receptor known as CB1R to the eyesight benefits they observed in the animals. They explained that when CB1R is activated, chloride levels are reduced. This hyperpolarises the cell and makes it able to fire at higher frequencies when it’s stimulated.
For the tadpoles, this meant that they were able to see dimmer objects in low light better than when they hadn’t been exposed to increased levels of cannabinoids.
Team concludes that cannabinoids will likely have the same vision-enhancing effects in humans
Ruthazer said that the team isn’t sure if cannabinoids will have the same effect on human vision
. However, there’s anecdotal evidence in scientific literature of cannabis
ingestion boosting night vision of Jamaican and Moroccan fisherman – so there’s a good chance that it will.
He added that the therapeutic use of cannabinoids is becoming more and more accepted by the medical community and the need for a thorough understanding of these chemicals’ role in the brain is better than ever.
“Our work provides an exciting potential mechanism for cannabinoid regulation of neuronal firing, but it will obviously be important to confirm that similar mechanisms are also at play in the eyes of mammals,” said Ruthazer.
“Though technically more challenging, a similar study should now be performed in the mouse retina or even in cultures of human retinal cells,” he concluded.