Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that the cannabis-like chemicals that are produced in the brain play a critical role in the increased susceptibility to addiction from fetal alcohol exposure.
“After the prenatal brain is exposed to alcohol, the endocannabinoids have a different effect on certain dopamine neurons which are involved in addicted behaviors than when [the] brain is not exposed to alcohol,” Roh-Yu Shen, PhD, senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, said in a news release.
The endocannabinoids typically play an important role in weakening excitatory synapses in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, but their role is reduced when the brain is prenatally exposed to alcohol. Shen theorizes that the synapses therefore continue to strengthen, and this becomes a critical brain mechanism for increased addiction risk.
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