A study from Linköping University in Sweden found that high levels of the body’s cannabinoid substances potentially prevent the risk of addiction in individuals who experienced childhood maltreatment. The study also indicated that the brains of those who had not developed an addiction following childhood maltreatment might process emotion-related social signals better.
The researchers investigated possible mechanisms contributing to susceptibility or resilience to developing substance use disorder as adults. The findings are published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Previous research studies have shown that childhood maltreatment triples the risk of substance abuse. However, few studies have examined the role of the endocannabinoid system and endocannabinoids in regulating stress and pain responses.
The participants included about 100 young adults. The researchers organized participants into four equal-sized groups:
The researchers measured endocannabinoid levels in blood samples. They also conducted several experiments to test stress reactions and used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study their reactions to social stimuli.
A key finding showed that resilience is associated with the group that had experienced childhood maltreatment but had not later developed an addiction. This group showed increased function of the endocannabinoid system and different brain activity. The resilient group showed higher activity in three brain areas when encountering social stimuli. Two of these areas are part of a brain network that focuses attention and cognitive abilities on what is crucial at the moment and adapts individuals’ behavior to the environment and activity.
The researchers plan to investigate differences in the endocannabinoid system function and stress responses of the resilient and other groups.