Designing an Alternative to Medical Marijuana
Marijuana calms people down and relieves pain, but it also has the potential negative effect of promoting memory loss. By blocking the breakdown of two naturally occurring compounds that bind to the same brain receptor as cannabis, John Casida, professor of toxicology and entomology, recent molecular toxicology Ph.D. Daniel Nomura, and colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California have discovered a way to emulate the positive effects associated with cannabis use.
THC, the marijuana plant’s psychoactive component, binds to a receptor called CB1, as do the brain’s own cannabinoids 2-AG and anandamide. The researchers used organophosphorus nerve agents to inhibit the enzymes that catalyse the destruction of these two compounds. Adding one particular nerve agent caused a more than tenfold increase in the levels of these chemicals in the brain, mimicking the positive effects of cannabis.
Casida emphasizes that the work represents “fundamental mechanistic discoveries” and does not propose a medicine or treatment. The finding, however, could help pharmacologists design new drugs that relieve pain.