NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Friday, April 5, 2013

COMMENT: The inevitability of Facebook (Medical Marijuana) [Full link to blog for email clients.]

It never fails - a friend sent me a link on Facebook - "What is your response to this?"  ============================>

My response was immediately: "Ah yes, the age-old custom of making things up, updated to the social networking age."

My more reasoned response is:

I have discussed at length about the difference between medical pot smoking and medicinal cannabinoids.  The "government conspiracy" is yet another installment in the same argument.  We'll take the argument apart piece by piece, but first let me start off with the following: 
I believe that extracts and compounds derived from cannabinoids - the characteristic compounds of the Cannabis sativa  plant - have potential for a wide range of medical applications. 
This is not about legalization.  As a scientist I am aware of many issues with marijuana intoxication and chronic use that are not fully addressed by legalization arguments, however, legalization is a decision to be made by society as a whole.

A very good article by the "Madrid group" is  "Cannabinoids: A new hope for breast cancer therapy" by M.M. Caffarel, A. Andradas, E. Perez-Gomez, M. Guzman, C. Sanchez in Cancer Treatment Reviews (volume 38, pages 911-918, 2012).  It is likely behind a pay-wall, but you can look up the paper in Medline or Google, and email the corresponding author to request a reprint.  It is an excellent review that summarizes the findings since that 2000 report.

There are several key pieces of information to start with - the review summarizes that the two known types of cannabinoid receptor - the structure on cells that recognizes and is activated by the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecule - affect cancer cells.  In many cases it is important to read the papers, because quite frequently, they don't test THC at all.  THC is a very weak, partial "agonist" (activator) of CB receptors.  In addition, it does not act with equal potency at the CB2 receptors as it does at CB1.  Many studies use synthetic or derived compounds with 100 to 1000 times the potency and efficacy of smoked marijuana.

Second, the compounds that actually have the effects varies.  Much of the THC effect on tumor and cancer cells seems to be related to anti-inflammation capabilities of cannabinoids.  Aside from THC, the most important cannabinoid for fighting inflammation is cannabidiol (CBD) which is present in only very low concentrations in most street pot.  It blunts the "high" and has been bred out of most of the pot available except from select growers.

Third, effects vary with the type of tumor cells.  Several reports show that THC increases size and number of breast tumors.  

Thus, the FB picture is incomplete at best - but let's take it apart piece by piece:

"In 1974 researchers learned that THC... shrank or destroyed brain tumors..." 

 I know the lab in question.  There was some indications, but hardly conclusive.
"The DEA quickly shut down and destroyed..."
BULLSHIT.  Clear and simple.  The DEA does not now, nor did they have in 1974, the authority to "shut down and destroy" research.  They can remove the investigator's drug license, they may confiscate some drugs, they may make arrests, but they cannot touch the research data.  Data belongs to the university or institution.  Anything published or paid for with federal or industry dollars also belongs to the funding agency.  As I said, I know the investigators of the (Virginia) lab doing the research in 1974, and the head of the lab continued to research effects of cannabinoids until his passing last year.
"February, 2000... researchers in Madrid... destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC..."
First - they did not destroy the tumors, they shrank them and suppressed growth.  Second, they did not inject the cells, third, in several cases, the drug was not THC, but one of several natural and synthetic cannabinoids as stated above.
"The Madrid study marks only the second time..."
Not true, there have been studies of the "neuroprotective" properties of cannabinoids - in particular due to their anti-inflammatory properties - over the past 20 years.  There are even several patent filings for medicinal applications of cannabinoid extracts, synthesized single compounds, and blends of cannabinoids with specific ratios of THC, CBD and other chemicals.
"In both studies, the THC shrank or destroyed tumors..."
Shrank, yes, destroyed, no.  In addition, there's this little problem of the studies that showed increases in tumors. Also, many of the studies tested synthetic compounds WIN 55,212-2 and JWH-133.  Neither if these compounds can be found in marijuana.  They also exhibit different potency and effectiveness on CB1 and CB2 receptors.  In many cases, the CB2 receptors were responsible for the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory results, and THC is just not the best compounds to activate CB2.
 "Most Americans don't know anything..."
I'm going to stop right there, because it's true - not because the information is suppressed, but because it just doesn't rise to the level of the latest sports contest or celebrity divorce.  Research results don't get much press - I know, because my name has been attached to two papers that did get press announcements in 2011 and 2012.  Most of the attention dies within a week.

Curing a rat or mouse of disease is not news.  Making a cure for humans from that data is.  There is a lot to be done to turn cannabinoids into medicine.  That work is being done, and is supported by the NIH and several pharmaceutical companies.  It is not suppressed by the DEA or FDA.

There is work to be done.  Lying to the public about supposed suppression of research to support an agenda promoting medical pot-smoking only diverts attention and damages the reputation of medicinal cannabinoids.

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