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Medical Marijuana Without the ‘High?’

Daily Dose 2010-11-27 0 comments

By Pat Brennan, Published in the Orange County Register

susanyangNew research shows that marijuana, long a symbol of tie-dyed inebriation, could one day become a respectable prescription drug with no intoxicating effects.

Chapman University scientist reveals in two recent studies that nausea-reducing chemicals in marijuana can be separated from the chemicals that produce euphoria.

While use in humans is years away, the findings by Keun-Hang Susan Yang and her fellow researchers could be especially good news for chemotherapy patients, she says. Separate research has shown that marijuana sharply curbs the nausea induced by chemotherapy.

Her recent work focuses on two major chemicals found in marijuana — THC (tetraydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

“One of the things marijuana does is to reduce vomiting and nausea problems,” said Yang, a professor who specializes in bioscience and computational biology. “People found out that THC is a problem because of the psychological actions of it. But CBD alone can potentially be used for treatment of this condition.”

Yang’s first paper, published in February in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, shows that CBD alone can reduce vomiting by blocking serotonin receptors in the brain. The second paper, published this month in Neuroscience, confirms that THC has a similar effect.

Both papers lay the groundwork for future experiments on animals, and perhaps one day for clinical trials in humans, to determine whether CBD alone can be used to treat nausea — potentially removing the stigma surrounding medical use of marijuana.

More work is needed on the therapeutic potential of other chemicals found in marijuana, Yang said.

She and her colleagues tested their idea on animal cells. The cells contained a protein that acts as a chemical receptor in the human brain and plays a role in the onset of vomiting and nausea.

By bathing the cells in the marijuana chemicals, they were able to track the chemicals’ effects on the receptors. They did it by measuring tiny changes in electrical current — a method called electrophysiology.

THC, for example, showed reduced voltage compared to a control group of cells that were not treated with chemicals, demonstrating that it effectively blocked the receptors.

Blocking those receptors in the brain is a well-known method for treating vomiting and nausea, and is already used to treat patients.

“The target for us is to conduct careful and well-controlled experiments in humans, which will take some time,” Yang said. But the goal of her research group is to neutralize marijuana’s troublesome psychoactive effects while taking advantage of its potential medical benefits.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” she said