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

By Boonsri Dickinson | April 22, 2009 4:44 pm

pot.jpgEveryone 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 Devi studied 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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
MORE ABOUT: brain, drugs, marijuana, medicine
  • Dave Green

    Why don’t they just legalize the stuff . That would get rid of the only side effect I can think of
    ie, being arrested.

  • Janne

    Would be good to being able to avoid pulling soot into your lungs and dioxins into your bloodstream. And if the psychoactive effects could be eliminated the resulting drug could be approved for use while driving or other potentially dangerous activities, another win for patients.

  • Pete

    Actually cannabis can be vaporized to release the THC and other cannabinoids without combustion…no smoke no “soot” and other potential nasties. Frankly I’d rather consume cannabis in it’s natural, god-given form than let scientists fart around with a synthetic form. Sometimes labs can really screw up a good thing. Plus the cost issue comes up…why line the pockets of pharmaceutical companies when cannabis is quite easily grown in the home for a very minimal cost and effort? If a patient can cultivate their own is this not preferable?

  • Richard

    Yes we would hate to hav ethem actually enjoy taking it……….

  • Skwish

    News like this makes me concerned. In 1938, Albert Hoffman was trying to find a respiratory stimulant, and accidentally found LSD. Though he, and others were hopeful that it could be useful, it became a new drug of abuse. The histories of substances like Amphetamines, Crystal Meth, and others have similar altruism behind them. A super THC is likely to be next.
    The question of legal pot is purely academic. If people want to use pot, they can grow plenty in a closet. However, pot will never be legal. There is too much profit in it’s prohibition. Profit is also the reason big Pharmaceuticals research a perfectly effective substance in the hopes a making a “better” substance only they can provide. Pot doesn’t need to be smoked to work, so the most harmful side effects may be avoided. As far as the other side effects are concerned, aren’t they the reason people use it in the first place?

  • Chaz

    Why would anyone want a synthetic chemical version of something nature makes perfectly?

    We all know the “Who would want” is Big Pharma.

  • Ziggy Bob

    I think that they shud just leagalize pot, save room in jail cells for those who actually have to be there, and everyone will be happy. weed makes people happy;)

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  • Teabaggs

    Plant seed. Grow plant. Harvest bud. Put in pill.
    Are there any bad parts of pot that need to be left out of a pill?
    Besides the fact that its smoked most commonly, it can be made into various goodies and confections with the same or near the same potency. Why spend any more money trying to get it into a pill? Because like some of you said, Big Pharma is interested. Pot use is becoming more prevalent or at least less frowned upon it seems and pharmaceutical companies need to package something with a brand on it, not just a plant that works. Then doctors can sell GSK’s new Cannazac (or something like that) rather than just giving a prescription for a plant.

  • grizzedram

    so basically it allows them to keep weed illegal, and charge ridiculously high prices for pills to do the same thing that a plant would do except cheaper. so people like my grandma have to pay even more for prescription drugs than she already can afford. excellent. thanks a lot.

  • Alex Z

    Dave Green, i couldn’t have said that better. haha.

    anyway: i believe that replacing marijuana with pharmaceuticals goes against the idea of marijuana in the first place. It’s a natural-grown plant used to replace pharmaceuticals in many instances.

    Scientists should be spending more time on breeding plants with fewer dioxins. Also, you know you don’t have to smoke it. You can eat or drink it and the side effects of smoking are non-existent.

    Grizzedram, you are absolutely right. There are THC pills in existence called Marinol, which are priced at around $25 a pill in NJ. It’s outrageous!

    People need weed to treat disease and stay alive. You wouldn’t take insulin away from a diabetic, would you?

    Legalize it. End of story.

  • Derek J. Quinn, Pharm.D., R.Ph.

    It is good to know that we are still researching THC-like compounds because the body is so very receptive to THC. In the meantime, however, we have something better we can use: THC has been available as a commercial pharmaceutical since 1985 (according to It is sold under the original brand name Marinol(R) and is now generically available (it’s getting cheaper all the time). It is a capsule that delivers a measured dose of THC in multiples of 2.5mg titrated to the patient’s need (unlike smoking the plant, which delivers an unknown and inconsistent dose of THC). So, we’ve been using the good effects of THC without the detriments of smoking the plant for at least 25 years with great success. As a Pharmacist in Michigan, I have used Marinol(R) in my cancer and HIV/AIDS patients with great success — it provides relief of mild pain, it causes much-needed weight gain, and it helps in the fight against nausea.

  • sam

    you guys are stupid.
    weed has twice the cancer causing carcinogens than cigs.
    it causes cancer.
    but 85% of the people that smoke weed also smoke cigs.
    so they wirte it off saying weed has nothing bad for you.
    really inhaling thick smoke wont give you cancer.
    but the sun will.
    your stupid.
    o ya smoking anything also kills brain cells.

  • Rudy

    Thanks for the learned opinion, Sam. Weed may or may not have more carcinogens than tobacco (I find it hard to believe that it does), but it is smoked in much less quantity so the total effect is much less toxic than cigarettes.

    Oh, and I’d be willing to be that my stupid is smarter than your smart.

  • Tim

    Marijuana is really good

  • beansNwieners

    What Teabaggs said.

    People have been using pot in ingestible form for millennia. This is hardly a breakthrough.

  • John

    Go to pubmed
    Search ‘endocannabinoid’ or ‘anandamide’ or ‘FAAH’

  • Andy

    @sam Your post has irony written all over it.

  • John

    oh and sam, find me an objective publication in a reputable scientific journal that shows a link from smoking marijuana to cancer. I think you’ll be surprised at what you (don’t) find.

  • Jumblepudding

    Inhaling the smoke of anything is bad and makes your lungs cry, you overlook that for long enough and you don’t feel it anymore, but the damage is still being done. People with a marijuana agenda are almost as bad as those with a creationism agenda with their canned(or is it bagged) arguments. Getting rid of the bad parts of marijuana is as simple as not igniting it, inhaling and acquiring the respiratory health of a victorian-era chimneysweep.

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  • Potsmoker

    They will make it legal it’s a mater of time the economy needs the extra money from taxing people. This will also help to cut down all the illegal drugs from Mexico and the streets. The police will save tons of cash as well.

  • GuiltyasCharged

    @Potsmoker: the reason why pot is NOT legal is because the govt cant tax it effectively. Its too natural, easily accessed, n can be home grown too easily. By them illegalizing it, they can profit off of tickets and fines, bail money, etc.. so much more profitable for them that way.
    Alcohol & Cigarettes are way more harmful than drugs, but those are legal simply because it can be closely regulated and taxed.
    Alcohol=makes ppl beligerent, can cause ulcers to liver failure, etc..
    have you ever heard of anyone that was beligerent and ready to fight anyone and everyone when their high? have you ever heard of anyone going to the doctor because one of their organs failed due to smoking weed too much? i didnt think so.

  • Atarijedi

    @GuiltyasCharged: You can grow your own tobacco if you want, or brew your own Alcohol, you just can’t sell it without paying taxes. It should be the same for Cannabis.

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  • bernard

    Why would anyone want to put all the good parts of pot in a pill ?Except maybe if youre CEO of Big Pharma Inc.Mother Nature had a way with storing
    a very complex mixture of secondary metabolites ie cannabinoids.It’s called a BUD.This structure contains lots of trichomes kind of little bags filled with pharmaceutically active compounds.Left undisturbed buds retain potency and fragrance for long time.He who thinks can make a pill shows probably
    very little respect for the science of Botany,Cannabis Sativa genus and probably has never grown a single plant himself.
    Marijuana is not the twigs and branches and woody residues and pesticides laced leaves that Health Canada try selling to med users.It is not a pill
    that Big Pharma wants to patent.
    Marijuana is fragrant buds,organically grown,that you crush in your grinder
    just before smoking it anyway you want.It has always been that way and will always be that way.
    Marijuana defies the laws of standardization that pharmacists would like to apply and baffles the medecine.It is much better so.Show respect to Mother Nature, she knows more than you do and has more experience than you with storing vessels.This bud is for you…maybe not covered by medicare…but it is for you all natural.If youre not happy with this well take the blue pill Viagra but I’m telling you you could have had the same effect with a

  • remy

    they should legalize it but have to get it from docters….that way they can make it…one per (time periode) i mean sure there will still be drug dealers but….most ppl won’t go to them anymore

  • Pingback: Smoked Pot Last Month? Dieting, Stress May Mean Positive Drug Test | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • stonerr(:

    OKAYY, I think that its a good idea to make weed into a pill, but that shit is so expensive and rare. its 10x easier to grow your shit or buy it from the nigga downt the street. annddd, I think that tampering with good things can do bad things so let the weed situation stay how it is. (:

  • ntufnel

    1. pills are not showing contempt for the plant, but some people (terminally ill cancer patients) would prefer not to inhale smoke. The pill is convenient for them. Additionally, it’s standardized. You don’t go and get opium latex from your doctor, you get a standardized, precise amount of a specific chemical that has been tested to do what you expect. Why should this not be true for *medicinal* marijuana. Buds should still be an option, as there is no risk of overdose with pot, however recreating a precise amount of chemical is important if you want research to be taken seriously. A pill is necessary, and a good step towards showing that the drug is as safe as many say.

  • Joy

    I suffer from asthma and enjoy smoking weed, but an effetive alternate to smoking would be much appreciated.

  • Kael

    The effects of marijuana are not either perfect or absolutely dreadful, like literally everything used for medication it exhibits both positive and negative effects. The primary negative effects are a loss in perception and responsiveness, something that some technology generates anyway (mp3 players and the sort), but the positives (reasons its used for medication) is because it has benefits like pain relief, it kills some cancer cells, prevents early cell death and so on. The negative effects that cause worry are exaggerated by people who are afraid to allow a new possible fix for problems they don’t have. Name me one single medication that has NO side-effects, and then you may say that, in comparison, marijuana is bad for you. Also, to show that I have no personal goal for this, i offer the dissenting opinion, those of you who glorify marijuana simply because it makes you feel good are also making a poor supportive argument, that and the fact that the people who more commonly argue against the alternate (no offense or inclusion to and of the actual patients who use it as medication) are people with no illness requiring marijuana, and are just seeking for excuses to let themselves be high all the time. For shame community, for shame. The people using it for medication are good, people who just use it for the effect could find alternatives, like an exciting activity or a hobby perhaps. If anyone reads this all the way through, then thank you for actually caring for a logical point of view.

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    They should make it legal and make some tax money. We need it!

  • DTS

    I have been experimenting with the properties of the substance being discussed here. I am trying to see if the strength of THC changes the physical part of pain, or is the effect of the weed containing the THC causing the brain to “distract” itself from the continual pain. I am going with Mental.

    I did Oxycodone for a bit after 2 major chest cracking surgeries in 2 1/2 months.. Altho it too distacted me from pain, it also had a physical pain relief. With weed the pain is still there, where Oxy’s attack the nerves somehow releaving the pain. But the side effects of Pain Killers is much worse than that of  average strength cannibus.

    Why am I saying this. Because I can attest to the medicinal powers of THC. However I cannot condone the method of smoking it.  It is nasty on the lungs. You know it. So, lets compromise with the nay sayers.   Ok Rich Guys lets make a DOPE DEAL.

    A ) All THC will be regulated by the pharmacies. ( hey we’re not RobinHood.)

    B ) All Medical Marijuana must be sold and personally exhanged with a Pharmasist.

    C ) You must have a prescription by a licensed Physician, who will be required to give you a   physical (at your or your insurances expense.)

    D ) There will be guidlines in place with the formulas of testing the grade (Potency).

    F ) Anyone selling pot to a kid gets to lose one big house, car, money, and introduces you to Bubba at  at the big house.

    G ) Federal Government gets a hefty tax on the sale, that will help cover some of the precieved costs of regulation.

    Because of the known health risks with smoking, only edibles with fixed dosages, or liquids may be sold to patients.

    OK, that is one way to get the Medjuana.

    Excuse any spelling or gramatical errors, I typed it fast.  

    • Drunkenfurby

      Your a fucking idiot DTS. I think pot needs to be found by the government, wipe every field of it, and be fully eliminated. Pot is for pathetic retards who cant handle life. If your such a pussy then kill yourself or be a man and go on with life. If you smoke pot you probably should just kill yourself.


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