Professor Li Zhang and a team of scientists at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently discovered that the painkilling benefits of marijuana can be enjoyed without feeling like a stoner.
For hundreds of years, humans have used the cannabis plant to dull pain and treat conditions like insomnia, nausea, and lack of appetite.
As medical marijuana slowly makes its way back into society, it’s being hailed by cancer patients as a an alternative to chemotherapy. For some patients, however, the side effects of smoking or eating marijuana, such as hallucinations, anxiety, or impaired mobility, make it hard to use this natural medicine.
Through an ingenious set of experiments, Professor Zhang managed to tease apart the mind-altering and pain-relieving effects of the main component of cannabis. This could open the way to cannabis-like drugs that provide pain relief without causing unwanted highs (New Scientist).
How exactly does it work? TheWeek.com explains:
Zhang and his team discovered that tetrahydrocannabinol (more commonly known as THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, produces different effects by bonding to different receptors in the brain. Scientists have known for years that THC bonds with a certain receptor to produce the classic disorienting marijuana high. But now researchers have identified precisely where THC targets the nervous system to lessen anxiety and dull pain. Hence, the potential to satisfy medical marijuana’s desire for pure pain relief.
The ability to isolate THC’s pain-killing attributes could bode very well for researchers and pharmaceutical companies looking to cash in on the multi-billion dollar industry.
“Soon,” says Annalee Newitz at IO9, “people whose stomachs are too tender for aspirin or ibuprofin may be swallowing THC pills to get rid of headaches.”
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