Synthetic Cannabis Research Advanced

Researchers have identified useful reference substances that will help create synthetic opioids.

Medical cannabis use has never been more popular, with many states legalizing the medical use of the drug for certain conditions due to its pain-relieving properties.

These drugs could be used to reduce the use of opioids and other pain killers, which may be vital to combat the opioid epidemic. Therefore, many scientists have been focused on synthesizing cannabis.

Research has now advanced to creating new types of painkillers based on the medicinal properties of cannabis without the certain side effects. A new study published by Nature Communications sets the gold standard for the use of reference substances to conduct more extensive research.

The psychoactive side effects of cannabis present a disadvantage that may deter some patients from seeking treatment, and have long stood in the way of widespread medical cannabis use. However, a synthetic form of the drug may result in decreased inflammation and pain, without the high that is traditionally associated with cannabis.

Numerous clinical trials assessing synthetic cannabis compounds have failed due to the lack of beneficial effects seen in patients. One potential cause of failure can be attributed to preclinical trials involving animal models, during which the biochemical and molecular pharmaceutical effects have not been accurately characterized, according to the study.

Due to this factor, many studies contradict one another, and the findings cannot be confirmed through additional studies conducted at different institutions. This could affect funding for clinical trials, and may expose patients to drugs that are inactive.

In the study, 12 international academic groups, the National Institutes of Health, Hoffman-LaRoche, and PhD candidate Majolein Soethoudt evaluated 18 common reference substances. Included in this analysis was Δ9-THC, which is the substance in cannabis that elicits psychoactive effects.

The investigators conducted 36 tests to determine the molecular pharmacological characteristics of these substances in the hopes of discovering the reference substance that would be the most effective for synthetic cannabis drugs, according to the study.

Δ9-THC binds to both the cannabinoid CB1 receptor located in the brain, and the cannabinoid CB2 receptor that is located in the immune system. While the activation of the CB1 receptor elicits a high, activation of the CB2 receptor has anti-inflammatory properties.

These gold standard molecules are highly selective, and only activate the CB2 receptor, while bypassing the CB1 receptor, according to the study. These molecules also do not cause nearly as many side effects or cause a high, but have an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect.

The identification of these molecules will likely lead to advancements in pain management drug development, especially relating to synthetic opioids.

The investigators suggest that these 3 gold standard molecules be used in research and development efforts surrounding synthetic cannabis, the study concluded.