Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Anything but marijuana!

So it seems as though researchers have found a drug (which, for the moment, they are referring to by the uber-sexy name URB597) that "works by raising levels of endocannabinoids" in treating depression.

The article, from UPI, is sparse on pharmacokinetic details, but it sounds like it might be the equivalent of MDMA's effects on Serotonin but on endogenous cannabinoids (which the article frequently refers to endocannabinoids as if their readers know to instinctively interpret the "endo" at the beginning of a word).
"This is the first time it has been shown a drug that increases endocannabinoids in the brain can improve your mood," said lead investigator Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a researcher at Montreal and McGill Universities.
Almost true! Two years ago, scientists found that the mood-elevation associated with "Runner's High" was likely caused by endocannabinoids, but I guess it's folly to think that the mainstream would consider excercise a drug.
The researchers, including scientists from the University of California-Irvine, were able to measure serotonin and noradrenaline activity as a result of the increased endocannabinoids.

I'd just like to point out (as I have in late-night inane rants to Tom Angell on at least two occasions) that a trend is emerging where agonists (drugs which directly act on neuroreceptors in the brain) are fairly consistently demonized, while most other drugs (antagonists, reuptake inhibitors of all sorts, particularly Serotonin) are glorified.

It seems to me that a subconscious social norm has developed which is accepting of drugs which inhibit brain function, but fearful of drugs which enhance or increase brain function.

It's not clear, then, where these kinds of drugs, which are somewhere in between, would fit in.

MDMA works by causing a release of 5-HT - endogenous Serotonin. Amphetamine (which is prescribed like candy to young teenagers) has just about the same effect on dopamine. Now, URB597 (whose subjective effects I'll be sure to report on as soon as I get my hands on some) appears to do the same for the cannabinoid system.

How will society's unconscious distinction treat this drug?

And moreover, why is it that a drug which essentially mimics marijuana acceptable while marijuana is not? Is it the mere use of endogenous rather than exogenous cannabinoids? The acceptability of "Marinol" (which, by the way, gets you really quite high) seems to suggest otherwise.

It's as if we recognize marijuana's medicinal and other value, but we want anything but marijuana to achieve it.

Read the Article Here.

11 comments:

Jeremy said...

"It's as if we recognize marijuana's medicinal and other value, but we want anything but marijuana to achieve it."

Well isn't it obvious why this is the case? If you want to make some money, you have to come up with something that no one else has and slap a little patent label on it so you can have your run at the dough before everyone else gets a chance. Unfortunately if the powers that be decided that pot was legal, we'd all be growing it in our backyards and not lining the pockets of fucking pharmaceutical companies.

Jonthon said...

Great piece, and I'm proud to say that I knew what "endo-" meant beforehand.

The answer to the question posed seems obvious: Marijuana in its natural form will continue to be illegal because there's more money to be made by patenting and marketing a reasonable facsimile. Society will base our opinions of drugs upon recommendations given to us, through one channel (doctors) or another (public policy), by the Pharmaceutical industry. Big Pharma, America's largest lobbying industry, isn't going to allow lawmakers or medical experts to publicly acknowledge a plant's medical benefits because that would significantly depreciate the value of many of their current drug offerings, for which they have fought hard to maximize their returns (by disallowing states to use their purchase power to negotiate, among other schemes). In short, they would never allow marijuana to be legalized, because there is much more money to be made by keeping it illegal, creating a reasonable facsimile, patenting it, and hoodwinking unsuspecting Americans.
Just call them the new mob!

Justin Holmes said...

Oh, of course, that answer is so obvious I felt that it would have been folly to analyze it. We've already been over that a thousand times with marinol.

What I think is more interesting is the subconscious pharmacological prejudices people have - often without even fully understanding the pharmacology to begin with.

The 'drug warriors' have made it very fashionable to box one set of psychoactives (which typically inhibits some brain function) into a box called "medicine" and the others into a box called "drugs." Just wanted to point that out.

I'm not surprised you knew what "endo-" meant - you are a drug policy reformer. But how many of the readers of mainstream media do? Most people, even if they are intelligent, well-rounded, knowledgable people, don't have the understanding of the chemical and philosophical differences between endo- and exo-.

This article fails to give enough background for people who don't know what "endo-" means, and thus is complicit in continuing the subconscious prejudice I'm talking about.

daksya said...

MDMA works by causing a release of 5-HT - endogenous Serotonin.

Not quite. Fenfluramine also leads to huge release of serotonin, but doesn't produce the same effect. MDMA also modulates dopamine. The synergistic activity seems a more plausible mechanism.

daksya said...

jeremy: Unfortunately if the powers that be decided that pot was legal, we'd all be growing it in our backyards

Except that millions of pot consumers don't have the time and the inclination to grow pot. Just like they don't grow garden-variety vegetables or tobacco or brew beer. Only very few hobbyists do so, and not enough to supply the whole market. It is much more convenient to buy a known-potency product from the local retailer.

Justin Holmes said...

The fact that MDMA actually enters the Serotonin transporter may also have an effect we don't yet understand.

Either way, my point was that this drug (unlike marinol) causes a release of endogenous cannabinoids rather than introducing an agonist.

As for the "growing our own" thing - the point is still sound. The fact taht cannabis can be easily (moreso than tobacco or most vegetables) grown from the earth means that it will not be as expensive per dose on the free market as marinol or URB597.

Besides, if it were legal to grow marijuana, I suspect many more people would do so than would grow tobacco or brew beer.

daksya said...

justin holmes: The fact taht cannabis can be easily (moreso than tobacco or most vegetables) grown from the earth means that it will not be as expensive per dose on the free market as marinol or URB597.

No doubt. Miron estimates that pot could retail for 15 times less than the current average prices, if legal. And I think growers for the nonmedical market will still have a healthy incentive to make it more convenient than home-growing.

Your argument relies on the medical market for pot. But I think you are overstating the ubiquity of whole marijuana plant's medical utility. There are a limited number of conditions where whole smoked/vaporized marijuana is effective. We know that pure THC and marijuana have different overall effects. Even the effect changes polarity, depending on dose (like acid stimulates respiration at low doses, but depresses it at higher doses). The other cannabinoids modulate the overall effect, & there's hundreds of them. So it may very well be true that individual cannabinoids help medically, but at the same time be true that whole marijuana helps just as well OR is ineffective OR is actually detrimental. One of the common sense practices of research is that you keep conditions as simple as possible. If a single compound does the trick, you don't administer it with a cocktail of 300 other chemicals.

Justin Holmes said...

(Not sure I agree with you on you on your police work there, Lou)

You are right, "modern" science emphasizes the analysis of the effects of single chemicals in what you call "simple" conditions.

However, there is an argument to be made that our few decades of research on particular chemicals has left us ignorant of and arrogant toward the plant psychoactives, which have evolved alongside human neurochemistry for thousands of years.

I'm not saying that chemicals are not valuable in research or in medicine; I'm just saying that they aren't inherently so any more than plants.

Believe me I'm not one to tout marijuana as a miracle plant - I've been urging to movement to move past medical marijuana for two years now, both for the sake of the issues and the patients, neither of whom are served, in my judgment, by the constant emphasis on this hot button issue.

I don't think that the medical possibilities of cannabis are "ubiquitous," but there is something to be said for the long term viability of this plant in its usefulness to human kind over the past few thousand years.

Finally, my argument does not rely on the market for medical pot - very much the opposite. I'm saying that the plant psychoactives are likely to be more cost effective per dose than their chemical counterparts no matter the purpose of their use.

My original point was that people seem to have a subconscious disdain for materials which (either in chemical or anecdotal terms) increase or enhance brain function, and that this may go just as far to explain individual sentiment toward drug policy as the plant / chemical distinction.

The impact of the market of the plant / chemical has been hashed out by reformers to its death, and communicated fairly well even in mainstream press outlets. Since this argument has not had the kind of measurable effect on public sentiment that we would hope for, I am looking for supplemental explanations.

daksya said...

I'm saying that the plant psychoactives are likely to be more cost effective per dose than their chemical counterparts no matter the purpose of their use.

And I'm saying that Pharma only has an interest in blocking pot if legal pot is likely to supplant profitable commercial medicine. But the medical uses of whole cannabis (as opposed to extracted compounds) are limited, so Pharma doesn't have much to worry about. It is Pharma itself who will market cannabis extracts (like Sativex).

Anonymous said...

Jeremy hit it on the head. I work for a big pharma and they are all looking for drugs to replace illegal drugs. As in no don't tkae that drug its bad for you but over here we have this drug that is good for you. Sure its the same drug but we aren't making 5 billion a year off you growing your own medicine.

They look for drugs to give addicts like methadone, sure they stopped taking heroin but now they are methadone addicts for the rest of their lives. Not a problem so long as they can keep the methadone flowing.

What I found most amusing about this study which I read weeks ago in a pharma industry news letter is the claim they make.

haven't we been told all along that pot causes depression? well now it seems to cure it also. Not that you saying it helped you was good enough we need pharma and the FDA to tell us that right. I wonder if they will find more pot knock off drugs for conditions like short and long term memory loss. After all it appears now that pot does the exact opposite of what the WoD idiots have been spewing for decades.

Ask your doctor if its right for you!

Anonymous said...

Exactly there is no money in legalizing pot. Pharma isn't the only one with a big stake to lose if it were to happen. Think about all the people that drink for no reason other than they can't smoke pot legally. Think Budweiser wants pot legal? hell no they don't in fact Bud has a vigorous drug testing program. How about that shit! One of the largest drug dealers in the country who's product has caused more deaths and has more people addcited than any other substance wants to make damn sure no one working for him is on drugs!

Take this a little farther. What kind of tax money is generated by alcohol sales? Think the government doesn't know that cash cow will start to dwindle once people can choose for themselves what drug is best for them? Since there is no tax collection mechanism setup for pot its a no profit item to government, not something they are fond of as we all know. As for pharma yep they have the biggest lobby group and they give the most campaign contributions. Think also about their profits in all this. If pharma can't make 10 billion a year off a drug than that is 10 billion less the government can tax. So pharma gives pols money, the pols make sure the pricing of meds is wide open for pharma and in fact gives them an 800 billion bonus for the old peoples meds. Pols make sure nothing is allowed to be legal for poeple to prescribe their own medicine and that no imports of drugs are allowed (even thought they were made here to begin with). Pol gets re-elected because he had the most money to saturate the TV with ads to the sheeple. And the process starts all over again.

"If a single compound does the trick, you don't administer it with a cocktail of 300 other chemicals."

Ok and what about all of us who are subjected to 100's of pounds of deadly pollutants being putted into the air daily by all the plants around my area? If I light up some pot its my choice. If I chose not to smoke, drink or use any drugs I am still having to breath the crap put into the air. So don't come to me with your assertion that your only concern is my health and expect me to act like I believe you.

As always and with everything in life and surely in government. Follow the money and ye shall find the truth.

Ask your doctor if its right for you!