Addiction specialists have been forced to rethink their approach to people with gambling disorders after new research from Canada has shown that high potency cannabis can improve ‘choice performance’ in rats with gambling type disorders.

Gambling addiction occurs as often as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but it receives are less attention. It is a complex addiction that doesn’t follow typical neural pathways that drug addictions do.

Drug treatments for gambling addicts don’t exist and drugs that they do get prescribed often contribute to treating other illnesses they may have, but don’t treat the gambling disorder itself. The publication, titled Effects of various cannabinoid ligands on choice behaviour in a rat model of gambling administered a gambling test on rats that is analagous to humans. After they were sufficiently high on synthetic cannabinoids (which are easier to research with than THC or cannabis), they re-assesed their decision making skills.

The test mimics gambling by giving rats 4 holes they can put their noses through, each with differing probabilities of a food payout. After becoming used to the rest, the rats opt for the optimum food payout, but some rats will go for the options that are high risk but less favourable overall. Those rats are said to have a gambling disorder.

Synthetic cannabinoids increased the advantageous the number of advantageous choices rats in the “suboptimal group” that were already making poor choices. Interestingly, synthetic cannabinoids did not have any effect in the optimal group that was already on the right track. Unsurprisingly, the synthetic cannabinoids also increased the time it took for most rats to make the decision, a fact that made the analysis difficult for the researchers.

With more work neuroscientists will uncover the story behind the endocannabinoid system’s role in compulsive gambling. Despite being in it’s initial stages of discovery, this research shows that cannabis may one day help those suffering from this financially crippling mental affliction.