Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, have discovered a new way to separate the therapeutic benefits of cannabis from its mood-altering side-effects.
Cannabis contains a chemical called THC, which binds to, and activates, proteins in the brain known as ‘CB1 cannabinoid receptors’. Activating these receptors can relieve pain and prevent epileptic seizures; but it also causes the mood-altering effect experienced by people who use cannabis as a recreational drug.
Now, Professor Maurice Elphick and Dr Michaela Egertovα from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences may have found a way of separating out the effects of cannabis – a discovery which could lead to the development of new medicines to treat conditions such as epilepsy, obesity and chronic pain. The research is described in the December issue of the journal Molecular Pharmacology.
Working in collaboration with scientists based in the USA*, they have identified a protein that binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain. But unlike THC, this ‘Cannabinoid Receptor Interacting Protein’ or CRIP1a, suppresses the activity of CB1 receptors.
Professor Elphick explains: “Because CRIP1a inhibits the activity of the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, it may be possible to develop drugs that block this interaction, and in turn enhance CB1 activity. This may give patients the pain relief associated with CB1 activity, without the ‘high’ that cannabis users experience.”
Leslie Iversen FRS, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford and author of The Science of Marijuana, commented on the new findings: “This interesting discovery provides a completely new insight into the regulation of the cannabinoid system in the brain - and could offer a new approach to the discovery of cannabis-based medicines in the future.”
The Elphick laboratory in the School of Biological & Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary is supported by grants from UK research councils (BBSRC, MRC) and the Wellcome Trust.
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