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Can Scientists Put All the Good Parts of Pot In a Pill?

DiscoblogBy Boonsri DickinsonApril 23, 2009 1:44 AM


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Everyone can make “marijuana” in their heads. We don’t mean this literally. Recently, researchers found that our brains produce proteins that mimic the effects of marijuana. The active ingredient in hash—tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short—is the reason why people feel high when they smoke pot. While the exact mechanism of how the brain takes in cannabis isn’t completely understood, THC is thought to play a significant role. After marijuana is inhaled, THC enters the lungs and the bloodstream, and then attaches to a certain type of cannabinoid receptor in the brain. That’s when the known effects of pot start to kick in: A person’s appetite increases (a.k.a the munchies), pain dissipates, and a heightened mental state sets in. The psychoactive effect of pot is widely used in the medical community to treat symptoms of pain and inflammation in a slew of chronic illnesses. Now, Mount Sinai researchers have figured out which proteins made naturally in the brain can act like THC, so that someday they can produce marijuana-type drugs that don’t come with the side effects of smoking actual pot. Mount Sinai School of Medicine researcher Lakshmi Devistudied the effects some of the naturally occurring proteins in mice. First, Devi extracted several proteins previously shown to bind to the cannabinoid receptor in the brain, and then sequenced the amino acids to see how they would react to the receptor. The proteins not only bound to the receptors the way marijuana would have, but also activated them as well. Their findings are no small potatoes: Knowing which proteins block or activate the TMC receptor could lead to the development of drugs to treat all of the diseases that, well, actual marijuana is used for. Related Content: 80beats: Smoking To Keep Alzheimer's Away DISCOVER: Drug Helps Schizophrenics 80beats: Medicinal Pot Club

Image: flickr / r0bz

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