Here's What Science Has Revealed for Marijuana

July 9th 2015

In a historic scientific breakthrough, researchers have discovered a process that takes cannabis and separates the good effects from the bad effects. The hope is that this method will allow users to experience cannabis' positive effects, such as its medical uses, while eliminating certain adverse psychological effects, such as memory problems, anxiety, paranoia, and dependence issues.

"This concept was never really thought to be possible at the molecular level," Dr. Peter McCormick, a lead researcher from the University of East Anglia's School of Pharmacology, told ATTN:. "I think this study strengthens the argument that we need more research to understand exactly how THC and other cannabis compounds work and may be of medical use."

The study, which stands to change the way we think about the science of medical marijuana, was published today in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal, PLOS Biology. It was led by the same team of European scientists who discovered how THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, can reduce tumor growth in cancer patients.

In the new article, scientists at universities and research institutions across Europe discuss the process of separating individual ingredients of marijuana and what they learned by introducing those isolated elements to lab mice.

"Their latest findings... reveal how some detrimental cognitive effects of THC are triggered by a pathway which is separate from some of its other effects," according to a statement from the publisher. "That pathway involves both a cannabinoid receptor and a serotonin reception. When it is blocked, THC can still exert several beneficial effects—including pain relief—while avoiding impairment of memory.

McCormick says that "this research is important because it identifies a way to reduce some of what, in medical treatment, are usually thought of as THC's unwanted side effects, while maintaining several important benefits including pain relief."

"There has been a great deal of medical interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms at work in THC, so that the beneficial effects can be harnessed without the side-effects," McCormick said. The doctor also cautioned that the scientific research—having only been tested in controlled lab experiments using mice subjects—should not encourage patients to self-medicate with marijuana. "But I hope that our research will lead to a safe synthetic equivalent being available in the future."

Science writer Richard Robinson, who penned a synopsis of the study, said that "the widening acceptance of a role for THC in medicine may be accelerated by the option to reduce those side effects by selective pharmacological disruption or blocking of the heteromer," which binds select molecules derived from cannabis.

The findings from this study come at an interesting time in the medical marijuana movement, with growing public support for legalization and a recent, bipartisan proposal to advance federal initiatives for cannabis research. Anecdotal evidence supports the idea that marijuana may have adverse, psychological effects for some users; and now the science appears to be catching up, opening new opportunities for scientists hoping to explore the pros and cons of the substance's potential use for medical treatment.

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