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Cannabis Study Tests Users' Bones

Herb Fellow

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Edinburgh scientists are recruiting 200 cannabis users for a study to investigate whether the drug has a harmful effect on bones. It is hoped the research by academics at Edinburgh University could lead to the development of new drugs to treat the bone disease osteoporosis.

Cannabinoids, chemicals produced naturally in the body, are triggered by components of cannabis. It is unclear if they protect against osteoporosis.

Heavy cannabis users are being recruited from general practices in Edinburgh to explore the possible adverse and positive effects of recreational cannabis use on bone disease. The aim of our study is to determine if cannabis use negatively impacts on bone density, which is an important risk factor for osteoporosis in later life.

The research is being led by Professor Stuart Ralston at the university's Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine. It is funded by the Arthritis Research Campaign.

"Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK, particularly in the young, but virtually nothing is known about its possible effects on bone health," Prof Ralston said. "The aim of our study is to determine if cannabis use negatively impacts on bone density, which is an important risk factor for osteoporosis in later life."

"The situation is complex because we know that cannabis is often smoked in combination with tobacco, and so the study will take this into account. "We will also take account of cannabis users' diet, exercise and alcohol intake, since these are also known to influence bone health."

Bone formation

The team's previous research has found cannabinoid receptors played a critical role in bones becoming thinner after the menopause. They have since found they are also involved in promoting new bone formation.

Prof Ralston said: "This is an exciting discovery because it opens up the possibility that we can develop new drug treatments for osteoporosis which bind to cannabinoid receptors to prevent bone loss and promote bone formation.

"The treatments for osteoporosis that are out there now either work by preventing bone loss or by stimulating bone formation. "If we could develop a new treatment that worked in both ways at the same time, this would be a major advance." "This will be an important first step to determine if cannabinoid receptor-based treatments are likely to be of value in the fight against osteoporosis."

One in two women and one in five men are likely to suffer from osteoporosis, which leads to 200,000 fractures a year.

Source: BBC News
Copyright: 2008, BBC News
Contact: Staff
Website: BBC NEWS | Scotland | Edinburgh, East and Fife | Cannabis study tests users' bones
 
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