The highest hashish analysis research of 2020
In April one of my students asked for an extension of an order, citing extended working hours in her retail store. I initially scoffed at the bad excuse, “What stores are open while you order?” I asked, thinking I had caught you in a lie. “The potty shop on campus,” they answered. “We were struck.”
As the world seemed arrested, the pulse of the cannabis industry got stronger. Although cannabis research was temporarily hampered when universities struggled to implement COVID-19 protocols, it continued to move forward. Although the number of cannabis-related publications in 2020 had decreased year-on-year (what was that no different than stock market indices?), Scientists continued to discover the secrets of the fascinating plant.
Here are some of the top cannabis research stories in 2020. (And the student was granted an extension for the recording.)
Top Cannabis Studies of 2020
Improving our understanding of the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system was only discovered in the 1990s, making it a relatively new system in which much is still unknown. The two receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2, look similar, but function very differently. As a result, it has been difficult to find drugs that selectively activate one another.
The holy grail of a cannabinoid-based drug would be a drug used to treat neurodegenerative disorders and pain, as well as provide neuroprotection by selectively activating CB2 receptors without activating CB1 receptors, allowing the benefits of dampening inflammation without causing high value. To do this, drug developers need to know what these two receptors look like at rest and when activated. The problem: they are really small.
This year, the scientists were finally able to take pictures of CB1 and CB2 receptors in various activation states using a method in which electrons are shot at receptors and their rebound is measured. It was a huge step forward, and the hope is that these images can be used to design specific drugs that harness the immense power of the endocannabinoid system.
CB1 and CB2 receptors also play a competitive role in rewarding cannabis. According to a study published in late 2020, CB1 receptors are responsible for the pleasant nature of low levels of THC, but the effects of high doses become aversive due to the activation of CB2 receptors. Activating these CB2 receptors reduces the amount of dopamine, a brain chemical that encodes information about what was good so you can look it up again. This counteracts the dopamine-boosting effects of activating CB1 receptors.
Hence, the study suggests that your high and the urge to seek it is the result of a tug-of-war between your CB1 and CB2 receptors: when CB1 receptors are more activated, you want that high again. This points to the added benefit of targeted CB2 receptor drugs as potential therapies for substance use disorders.
What is the endocannabinoid system and what role does it play?
Legitimate cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain
Many doctors are reluctant to recommend cannabis as a pain treatment due to the lack of “good” studies, suggesting evidence from placebo-controlled double-blind clinical trials, the gold standard in clinical research.
While it is wrong to say that such studies do not exist, the case for cannabis is not a slam dunk in the medical literature. However, in 2020, two gold standard, small-sample studies were published supporting the pain relieving benefits of cannabis for chronic pain.
One study found that a 48: 1 THC: CBD oil given sublingually via tincture significantly improved the quality of life of women with fibromyalgia, a form of chronic pain known to be difficult to manage. These patients averaged 4.4 mg of THC per day and reported that their pain was halved, their work performance improved, and their mood improved greatly compared to those given a placebo. This underscores the promising effects of even a moderate dose of THC in treating this debilitating condition.
A second study tested the feasibility of an inhaler-like THC delivery device in patients with chronic neuropathic pain. Although the researchers only looked at a single acute delivery, a small 1 mg shot of THC was enough to relieve pain compared to a placebo, and its benefits persisted for over two hours.
Together, these studies support the benefits of THC in treating chronic pain symptoms. It is important to emphasize that these benefits were obtained with small or moderate doses of THC, which is important in order to prevent tolerance to the drug and the likely loss of its therapeutic benefits.
Cannabis for pain: does marijuana use increase the risk of abuse?
THC doesn’t make you lazy
Many athletes turn to cannabis to improve performance, increase pleasure, and aid recovery. However, contrary to the propaganda of the Reefer Madness era, cannabis was traditionally designed to make people lazy.
Despite claims made by anti-drug campaigns, the effects of THC on exercise motivation are not well understood. We know that CB1 receptors, the primary highly inducing brain targets of THC, play an important role in motivation, but the effects of THC itself are unknown.
To better understand the effect of THC on exercise motivation, French scientists trained mice to take nose pricks to unlock a running bike. They found that THC did not affect a mouse’s running preference, how hard they worked to gain access to the bike, or their performance when running. These results suggest that THC doesn’t affect motivation to exercise and counter the belief that smoking weed makes you lazy.
However, the study’s authors found that genetic elimination of a mouse’s CB1 receptors decreased their preference for running. This is important as excessive THC consumption can create a tolerance that is perceived as a weakening of the effects of THC and is linked to the depletion of CB1 receptors.
This suggests that motivation may decrease with frequent use of THC-rich cannabis. But to regular consumers, it looks like a few hits won’t stop you from earning miles.
Cannabinoids can treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
For the past decade, scientists have been studying the role of CBD and THC in slowing the progression of age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Recently, they began researching its effects on Parkinson’s disease symptoms and found that the cannabinoids can help alleviate some symptoms.
For example, tremors are a core symptom in Parkinson’s disease that can worsen during periods of stress, and it has been suggested that the anxiety and stress-reducing effects of CBD may help dampen tremors. To test this, Brazilian scientists conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of CBD in Parkinson’s patients during a simulated public speaking test. Using an accelerometer to measure tremor size, they found that a single 300 mg dose of CBD reduced both anxiety and tremor compared to placebo. These results suggest that CBD may be helpful in dampening tremor in Parkinson’s patients in stressful situations.
Another two core symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are slowness of movement and stiffness. To manage these symptoms, patients are usually prescribed a drug called L-DOPA (this is the same drug featured in the book and movie Awakenings). The problem with this drug is that it can cause unwanted movements known as “dyskinesia”. While L-DOPA can allow a Parkinson’s patient to move more easily, it can tip their balance the other way and cause unwanted movement.
Interestingly, there are several ways to block this unwanted movement, such as: B. blocking CB1 receptors and activating CB2 receptors. Fortunately, THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), one of the many cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, fits the pharmacological profile required to dampen dyskinesia.
Spanish scientists tested the benefits of THCV directly against L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. They showed that THCV delayed the effects of L-DOPA on dyskinetic movements and decreased their intensity once it was present. These results suggest that THCV offers promising add-on benefits to L-DOPA by reducing unwanted movement, and underscores the promise of cannabinoid-based therapies for Parkinson’s disease.
How does cannabis use affect neurodegenerative diseases?
Discovered a natural THC-like cannabinoid
Scientists have studied the composition of cannabis for almost a hundred years and have so far identified almost 150 cannabinoids. It’s exciting when a new cannabinoid is discovered because, like recently discovered Egyptian mummies, new cannabinoids serve as clues to better understand the mystery behind the plant’s range of effects.
Italian scientists isolated a new cannabinoid, THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol), from the FM2 strain and tested its ability to bind to endocannabinoid receptors and affect mouse behavior. THCP mimicked the traditional effects of THC and appeared to do so more strongly than what others have reported about THC. This was reflected in a high affinity binding to the endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are needed to get a stone down, relieve pain, etc.
When compared between studies, it appears that THCP binds to CB1 receptors approximately 30 times more easily and 6 times more easily to CB2 receptors than THC. While this doesn’t mean that THCP is 30 times higher than THC, it does imply low levels of THCP as a potential culprit for why different strains have different intoxicating effects, even when they have the same THC levels. For this to be the case, many questions still need to be answered. For example, how much gets into the brain? Watch out for THCP for years to come.
Josh Kaplan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Western Washington University. He is a passionate science journalist, educator and runs a laboratory that researches the developmental and therapeutic effects of cannabis.
View article by Josh Kaplan