Geez, is it me or is space travel becoming more and more of a bummer every day? Scientists have recently discovered that time in space poses many mysterious health risks to human beings. The constant bombardment of cosmic radiation astronauts face in the vacuum of space has been found to increase the risk of developing unexplained cardiovascular diseases. More worryingly, researchers recently discovered that astronauts’ genes can be permanently altered as a result of spending time in space. Now, would-be astronauts have another disappointing space discovery to harsh their collective buzz: scientists have found that it is likely impossible to get stoned in space.
What a bummer. Even though toking up, putting on Dark Side of the Moon, and staring down at the Earth for hours sounds like a perfect way to spend one’s first time in outer space, a new study published in the journal Brain Structure and Function has found that background radiation levels in space can affect the hippocampal regions of the brain responsible for, among other things, cannabinoid reception:
These results demonstrate that energetic charged particles at space-relevant low doses elicit surprisingly selective long-term plasticity of synaptic microcircuits in the hippocampus. The magnitude and persistent nature of these alterations in synaptic function are consistent with the observed perturbations in cognitive performance after irradiation.
Researchers bombarded poor, innocent laboratory mice with radiation similar to that found throughout the solar system. After irradiation, the activity of cannabinoids (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor basket cells (CB1BCs) in the mouse brains was found to be significantly decreased due to the fact that the radiation triggered the release and uptake of another neurotransmitter, GABA:
In irradiated mice, GABA release from CB1BCs onto PCs [(hippocampal neurons)] was dramatically increased. This effect was abolished by CB1 blockade, indicating that irradiation decreased CB1-dependent tonic inhibition of GABA release.
Ok, you’re probably wondering why scientists would study this particular aspect of radiation-induced cognitive impairment. Given the facts that recreational and/or medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and a trip to Mars could last over 300 days, it’s not a stretch to assume that many marijuana users might not want to go without their preferred therapy of choice on a long flight to their new home on the red planet or an off-world asteroid mining colony.
If these discoveries don’t discourage you from taking a commercial spaceflight in the near future, there’s always a chance you could, you know, blow up on the launch pad or be incinerated upon reentry into the atmosphere. Still totally worth it, though.