In the last year, marijuana (or, more precisely, THC, the chemical behind cannabis' kick) has been linked to sharper recall and warding off superbugs. The problem is that along with those potential effects that are good for sick people, the mental impairment, disorientation, and other psychoactive effects of THC are "a major problem" that limits its usefulness, says Lakshmi A. Devi, a researcher at the Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
The things that make for a good high are, perversely, a major drag if you're a chemo patient just trying to exploit the appetite-restoring properties of THC or a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer looking for a decent anti-inflammatory drug.
So Devi and her colleagues have been looking for a compound that has the good effects -- that is, the good effects for a person with cancer, for example -- without the bad ones. And now they seem to have found some, according to their report in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal. Even more exciting: the newly-discovered THC-mimicking proteins are produced by the brain.
Inside your head, as it were, you may have the power to make yourself high.
If the receptor can be toggled by these peptides, there may be a way to develop highly-targeted drugs—ones that switch the cannabinoid receptor on, and off (a recent weight-loss drug trial involved tried blocking it, although the trial was halted early) at will—without THC's "downsides."
So when do we get these wonder drugs? Alas, there's still much to be done. For one, the peptide Devi and her colleagues found was in mice, and, according to Devi, there's no saying when a human trial could begin: "Could be months...could be years....could be never," she says.
But perhaps it won't be too long a wait. Gerry Weissmann, the FASEB Journal's editor-in-chief, for one, has seen "the cannabinoid receptor story developing into a major field of science (not only neuroscience) and the number of papers dealing with these receptors submitted to our journal have increased by about 50 percent since 2006."
We should note -- perhaps with our eyebrows raised -- that the study was published online on April 20. For those of you older than, say, 19, we might have to explain that "420" is slang for pot. And since we will claim to have never heard that anyway, we certainly won't profess to know why, although snopes.com has a good almost-answer. So last Monday, tens of thousands around the world engaged in a highly uncontrolled experiment with a controlled substance: They got high.
Weissmann insists the publication date was "chance, not choice."
Photo by TorbenH via Flickr