High Times for Medical Marijuana

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Even the most gung-ho medical marijuana advocates have to wince when they see a marijuana dispensary ad with a tie-dye background or hear about doctors writing pot prescriptions for a sore toe based a two-minute consultation. Such scenarios fuel the perception that medical marijuana research must simply be a front group for stoners. But the levelheaded folks at Science News (June 19, 2010) remind us why lots of smart people in lab coats are advocating the use of medicinal marijuana.

The article “Not Just a High” by Nathan Seppa explores “the long march to credibility for cannabis research,” which, he soberly explains, “has been built on molecular biology.” Seppa details how THC mimics the effects of compounds in our bodies, and how both versions–cannabinoids from the plant and endocannabinoids from our bodies–bind to receptor proteins dubbed CB1 and CB2. And that’s where the magic begins.

“When a person consumes cannabis, a flood of THC molecules bind to thousands of CB1 and CB2 receptors,” writes Seppa. “The binding triggers so many internal changes that, decades after the receptors’ discovery, scientists are still sorting out the effects. From a biological standpoint, smoking pot to get high is like starting up a semitruck just to listen to the radio. There’s a lot more going on.”

The article covers several promising new avenues of pot study, including treatment for multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory conditions. Fresh research even suggests, counterintuitively, that THC may fight cancer by igniting “programmed suicide” in some cancer cells. 

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Image by Neeta Lind, licensed under Creative Commons.

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