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Medical marijuana research takes a few surprising turns


Karl B. Hille, The Examiner. July 18, 2006 

BALTIMORE - Research being conducted around the globe hints at the potential for marijuana to treat cancer, as well as lead to pre-cancerous conditions.

A Spanish paper published in the journal Nature Reviews-Cancer explored the potential for the active ingredient in marijuana to inhibit cancer growth, while Johns Hopkins researchers are studying compounds that might render the drug ineffective for those seeking its high.

“Further basic research and more exhaustive clinical trials are still required before cannabinoids can be routinely used in cancer therapy,” wrote Manuel Guzman in his research paper “Cannabinoids: Potential anticancer agents.” 

A biochemist with the Complutense University in Madrid, Guzman identified the process by which cannabinoids, found in many forms in marijuana, can inhibit cell growth and trigger cell death — processes that can get out of control in cancerous cells. One specific compound, delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, has been proven a valuable compound in fighting nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite and controlling pain, he writes.

Don’t look for the federal government to approve marijuana cigarettes any time in the foreseeable future, said Dr. Richard Wahl, a researcher with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. “There are all kinds of compounds in smoke. For medical purposes, you want to be able to isolate the compounds that have the desired effect,” he said.

In addition, marijuana smoke has been known to create conditions that lead to lung cancer, though scientists have not positively linked the drug to cancer, according to The Archives of Internal Medicine.

Wahl and his colleagues have mapped parts of the brain that respond to cannabinoids by tailoring compounds with radioactive tags for injection, then reading them through positive electron tomography — PET scans. Through their research, scientists now know these compounds predominantly affect parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.

Some types of cancer, including breast cancer, also have cannabinoid receptors on their surfaces, he said.

“There are also other compounds that bind to these receptors,” Wahl said.

They are looking for a National Institutes of Health grant to identify drugs that can block those receptors, rendering the marijuana ineffective.

khille@baltimoreexaminer.com

Examiner