THC and CBD are just the beginning of cannabis research
Like many other undergraduate college students, Joseph Sweeney experiments with marijuana. However, the sophomore Biochemistry student at Stony Brook University isn’t partaking in recreational fun. He’s pipetting his way into the new era of research from neurological benefits to simply reducing nausea for cancer patients.
Sweeney is one of the seven person team working on “Anandamide Metabolism and Transport” under the direction of professor Dale Deutsch, Ph.D. in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.
In February, Deutsch’s five-year study culminated into a discovery that could validate anecdotal evidence in the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
The paper, titled “Fatty Acid Binding Proteins are Intracellular Carriers for THC and CBD,” found that three brain FABPs carry compounds found in the plant, THC and CBD, from the cell membrane to the interior of the cell acting as transporters.
They then went into the mad scientists roll of manipulating these transporters.
“We can inhibit them and raise your natural marijuana levels—in mice. When you raise the natural stuff, you don’t get all the psychotropic effects. It works for pain and inflammation,” Deutsch said.
Every person has this natural marijuana throughout the nerve system.
“It’s the real one,” Deutsch said. “The plant is the phony one.”
This biological form is produced all over the human system especially in nerves. Deautsch explains that they can tell the nerves when to calm down and reduce signaling.
“[Anandamide] is the secret to why cannabis works. It turns out our bodies have an endogenous cannabinoid system” author and scientist Lex Pelger from Brooklyn, N.Y. said pointing at one of the hundreds of sticky notes wallpapering his home office.
I’ve spent the last two years of the road interviewing people around the world about the laws and medical benefits of cannabis and then a lot of time here, in my cave reading through the primary literature of the science so I can explain, in a fun way, why and how the endocannabinoid system is so important.
The colorful even rows list some of the 400 plus chemicals in marijuana, notes new studies around the world and graphics from pie charts to chemical structures. Adding to the chaos of an academic’s lair are piles and piles of books about cannabis.
With a wide, jovial smile, Pelger explains his addition, “People of the Cannabinoids,” will be a graphic novel.
He paused, cleared his voice, he said, “I’ve spent the last two years of the road interviewing people around the world about the laws and medical benefits of cannabis and then a lot of time here, in my cave reading through the primary literature of the science so I can explain, in a fun way, why and how the endocannabinoid system is so important.”
Pelger has done much of his research underground in the black market world of marijuana. He says the reason there are so many “miracle stories” in the news is because there so many anecdotal stories, they aren’t hard to find.
What hard to find is the hard truths and clinical studies in medicinal use.
“About six ex-police officers came and visited my lab to take about [the equivalent of a dime] of marijuana,” Deutsch said. “All over the place, everyone has marijuana. For a tiny, tiny little bit it’s this whole government bureaucracy involved.
To research marijuana-based inquiries, there is only one place to legally obtain the product. The DEA has only issued a single license, which was renewed this year, for the cultivation of marijuana for research to the University of Mississippi to date.
In order to test marijuana, parties have to apply through the National Institute on Drug Abuse and meet their requirements: parties must follow three Demonstrate scientific validity and ethical soundness through either an National Institutes of Health funded project or through a Department of Health and Human Services scientific review panel, have an Investigational New Drug application on file with the FDA (for human research only) and a DEA registration for a Schedule I controlled substance.
“It takes a year to get [the DEA license],” Deutsch said “I have to keep track on a piece of paper every milligram we use.”
Deutsch’s team received a five-year $3.8 million grant from the NIDA in 2013 to develop new drugs for pain, inflammation, and potentially drug addiction. Without that grant, they wouldn’t have been able to discover the correlation between biological anandamides and the marijuana plant.
According to the NIH, there are 37 funded, active clinical trials. To date, 18 applications submitted by potential researchers not funded by NIH and of those, 16 received approval to obtain research-grade marijuana from NIH.
Deutsch hopes the licenses will open doors to the research, “These companies that are setting up to sell marijuana legally, I think some of
them will support research.” But that there might be some changes in the government as well, “It’s changing now because the states are changing their rules.”
In each of the previous chapters, the consumer, the politician and the practitioner have called for definitive, clinical trails. Deutsch and his team along with doctors, scientists and patients across the state are attempting to find those numbers.
About six ex-police officers came and visited my lab to take about [the equivalent of a dime] of marijuana. All over the place, everyone has marijuana. For a tiny, tiny little bit it’s this whole government bureaucracy involved.