#199 WSJ Pharmaceutical Companies Attempt To Synthesize Marijuana

Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2001
Subject: #199 WSJ Pharmacuitical Companies Attempt To Synthesize


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #199 Wednesday February 28, 2001


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that several researchers are
trying to develop derivatives of marijuana that can be used medically
without inducing a high. Some of the big pharmaceutical industries are
interested. The article does not address the people who need medical
marijuana right now regardless of its intoxicating qualities.

Please write a letter to the Journal to say that efforts should be
made to allow people who need marijuana for medical reasons to get it
now, and to point out the hypocrisy of the pharmaceutical companies,
which help to support the anti-marijuana propaganda of the Partnership
for a Drug-Free America.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


Phone, fax etc.)

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Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Contact: letter.editor@wsj.com



US MS: Researchers Aim To Develop Marijuana Without The High
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01.n358.a06.html
Newshawk: Douglas Caddy
Pubdate: Wed, 28 Feb 2001
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Contact: letter.editor@wsj.com
Address: 200 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10281
Fax: (212) 416-2658
Website: http://www.wsj.com/
Author: Mark Robichaux, Wall Street Journal
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis)

After 10 years of searching, University of Mississippi Professor
Mahmoud El Sohly thinks he has a new way to quiet opponents of
marijuana as medicine: a pot suppository. Designed to ease
post-chemotherapy nausea, among other conditions, its best feature may
be what it doesn’t do. “There is no high,” says Dr. El Sohly.

Whether the Food and Drug Administration ever will approve his drug,
which he has tried out on animals and human subjects, is hard to
predict, pending clinical trials sure to cost millions he doesn’t yet
have. He’s trying to interest drug companies.

For patients turning to marijuana for relief from a symptom such as
nausea, the high may be an unwanted side effect. To the government,
it’s illegal substance abuse. So in labs around the world, researchers
like Dr. El Sohly are attempting to create marijuana pills, aerosols,
injections and sprays that don’t create a buzz. Some are tweaking
molecules, while others are in the greenhouse crossbreeding plants.

One And The Same

What makes the task so tricky is that the same ingredient that appeals
to pot smokers — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — is what holds
promise as a medicine. Of the 400 or so chemicals found in the hemp
plant, more than 60 are so-called cannabinoids, and none is more
psychoactive than THC.

Some challengers in the race are already claiming victory. A tiny New
York City firm called Atlantic Technology Ventures Inc. is waiting to
unveil a synthetic compound called CT-3 — claimed to be THC without
the high. Sumner Burstein, a professor at the University of
Massachusetts department of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology,
developed the drug as a pain-reliever and says it is nonpsychoactive:
“I took one myself — no mental aberrations.” At least four years of
testing await the drug, which the company hopes to market one day as a

Prof. Audra Stinchcomb of the Albany College of Pharmacy in New York
is testing in the lab a patch designed to relieve the side effects of
chemotherapy in cancer patients. Key to this effort’s success is the
rate of “transdermal” intake of the drug — too little and patients
feel no effect; too much and they get giggly. She attaches
synthetic-THC patches to pieces of skin left over from plastic
surgeries to evaluate absorption.

Fifteen Tons

In southern England, three-year-old GW Pharmaceuticals is hybridizing
cannabis plants to breed out psychoactive agents in some cases, to
increase THC in others. The company, which has a unique license from
the government of the United Kingdom, grows 50,000 plants, producing
15 tons of marijuana a year for medical research. “We have a perfect
factory growing one cannabinoid or another,” says founder and chairman
Geoffrey Guy.

While most other research involves extracting a single THC molecule
from cannabis and modifying it, Dr. Guy hopes to use the
pharmaceutical extracts of the entire plant. One way to reduce
psychotropic effects, says Dr. Guy, would be to increase the content
of other helpful cannabanoids besides THC, such as cannabidiol, or
CBD, which seems to minimize the high.

GW’s first product, which could hit U.K. markets as a pain-reliever by
2003: a device the size of a mobile phone that allows a daily dose of
a prescribed number of squirts under the tongue of cannabis extract,
containing both CBD and THC. The dispenser won’t allow extra squirts.
“We have chaps [in tests] using heavy machinery … some are
teaching,” says Dr. Guy. “They aren’t sitting in a corner high as a

At London’s Imperial College, researchers are testing a THC-based drug
that circumvents the brain entirely — delivered by a spinal
injection. Though it is too early for human trials, researchers are
hoping to find that THC derivatives are more effective than morphine
for relieving pain from spinal-cord injuries.

Individual scientists, academic labs and small drug firms are pushing
the research hardest, largely because big drug companies have
traditionally been leery of the cost and political problems associated
with marketing marijuana as medicine. Also, because cannabis is a
natural product in the public domain, it can’t be patented. Today, the
only prescription-based medical marijuana available in the U.S. is
Marinol, a synthetic cousin of THC sold and marketed by Unimed
Pharmaceuticals Inc. Though approved as a nausea drug in 1985, and as
an appetite-stimulant for AIDS patients in 1992, it can induce a drug
high. Sales today reach an estimated $20 million annually.

Big companies are starting to get interested in the field. “We see
them — Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis — all the time at the
meetings of the society now,” says Roger Pertwee, a professor at the
University of Aberdeen in the U.K. and secretary of the International
Cannabinoid Research Society, a group of medical and academic
researchers. “They never came in the past.” Spokesmen for all three
companies said they wouldn’t dispute that assertion but also wouldn’t
confirm that they have had people at meetings. Kate Robins of Pfizer
Inc. said, “Our job is to cure diseases. We have 12,000 researchers.
We leave no stone unturned.”

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of
Sciences, made the strongest case to date for cannabis as a potentially
effective treatment for nausea, AIDS-related appetite loss, glaucoma,
multiple sclerosis and other ailments. Its compilation of studies,
“Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” concluded that
cannabinoids have “potentially far-reaching therapeutic applications.”

Recent findings suggest that THC holds more potential as a painkiller
than anyone ever guessed. Discoveries that the body produces its own
cannabinoids that bind with receptors located in the brain and
elsewhere lead scientists to believe THC could affect nerve impulses
between cells in precise ways.

“In war, some men lose limbs and they don’t feel pain because the body
can turn pain off,” explains J. Michael Walker, a professor at Brown
University and current president of the cannabis research society. New
research suggests that “when you activate parts of the brain that turn
pain off, it causes the release of cannabinoids. Can cannabinoids
suppress pain pathways? It’s a very exciting science question.”

Some scientists remain skeptical. “Anecdote is not evidence,” declares
Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse,
which funds research on addiction. “There is still very little
controlled clinical research on cannabis that demonstrates medical

Prof. Burstein, of the University of Massachusetts, says other
professors often “get a big grin on their face” when he speaks about
his marijuana research. “They ask, ‘Did you remember to bring the brownies?'”


To the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

I felt a wave of nausea as I read the story “Researchers Aim To
Develop Marijuana Without The High” (Feb. 28). It only got worse as I
considered that I would need to wait years and likely spend great
numbers of dollars before legally attempting to quell that nausea with
marijuana. No matter how feverishly the pharmaceutical industry works
to eradicate the intolerable side effect of euphoria from marijuana
derivatives, it’s difficult to get excited.

The cynicism on display by the pharmaceutical companies is outrageous,
especially considering that many of them contribute funds to the
Partnership for a Drug-Free America – which creates anti-marijuana
ads. Marijuana is bad, I guess, unless its inherent unprofitability is
removed by way of a patented process.

Of course the pharmaceutical makers sound positively enlightened when
compared with NIDA head Alan Leshner, who still takes the flat-earth
approach that marijuana just can’t be good in any form.

All drugs have potential side effects – are we waiting to use
chemotherapy until the discomfort it can cause is eliminated? Why is
vomiting and a generally bad feeling acceptable but a mild high is
not? If the pharmaceutical companies think there’s a market for
cannabis without the high, then they ought to pursue it. But why are
people who can benefit from marijuana right now denied?

Stephen Young

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Prepared by Stephen Young – http://home.att.net/~theyoungfamily Focus
Alert Specialist