The two most well-known compounds in marijuana—THC and CBD—are the products of genetic mischief at the hands of ancient viruses, according to a recent study.
A team of researchers created the world’s first cannabis chromosome map, revealing how, millions of years ago, viruses colonized one of marijuana’s 10 chromosomes, where enzyme genes that produce THC and CBD exist. One or both of those genes was overwhelmed by DNA maligned by the viruses, and that viral DNA eventually spread throughout the cannabis genome.
There’s a lot of science to take in, but the idea is that through this mutative process, cannabis split into chemically different plant types: hemp, which contains mostly CBD, and marijuana, which has higher concentrations of THC. Human selection took over at that point and the respective plants evolved into what we have today.
The enzymes are still virtually identical at the DNA level, so it’s been unclear up to this point whether there were separate genes or two versions of the same gene that produced the enzymes. Part of the reason that question has confounded researchers is that marijuana and hemp contain both THC and CBD in different concentrations.
The study, published in the journal Genome Research, showed that there are, in fact, two separate genes involved in that process. That means it’s possible to separate them and cultivate cannabis without THC, for example.
“Mainstream science has still not done enough because of research restrictions,” Jonathan Page, who collaborated on the cannabis chromosome map, said in a press release. “Legalization and looming ease of research regulation really provide for opportunities for more research to be done. And Canada is leading the way.”
More Americans Think Smoking Marijuana Is Safer Than Vaping It, Study Finds
There are plenty of ways to consume marijuana, but what’s the safest?
A recent survey put that question to about 9,000 American adults, and it generated some surprising findings.
The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 53 percent of respondents didn’t think there was any safe form of consumption. But among those who did believe that some forms are safer than others, edibles topped the chart as the perceived safest at 25 percent.
Interestingly, almost five times as many respondents said that smoking cannabis (16 percent) was safer than vaping flower (3 percent) or oils (3 percent).
That would seem to run counter to the common understanding that heating cannabis up just enough to vaporize certain constituents is safer than combusting and inhaling it in its entirety.
Also in the survey, less than one percent of respondents said dabbing concentrates was the safest way to consume marijuana.
“As more states legalize recreational use of marijuana, further research assessing the safety of marijuana across its various forms is necessary to inform state regulations and public policy,” the researchers wrote.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Feds Call For Even More Marijuana Research After Hosting Cannabis Workshop
Federally funded research into marijuana seems to be escalating, with one government agency recently posting a roundup of current “cannabinoid-related funding opportunities” for studies investigating the plant’s therapeutic potential.
On Saturday, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) shared a list of four research grant opportunities for studies on “natural products” like cannabis. One would examine how cannabinoids other than THC affect pain and three others call for more broad clinical trials of natural products involving human participants.
The list appears to have been prepared as part of an NCCIH-hosted workshop last week that explored “how to conduct research within the current regulatory framework”—an event that was explicitly not about “challenging or changing current federal laws, policies or regulations.”
.@NIH, including @NIH_NCCIH, @NIDAnews, @NIMHgov, & @NINDSnews, as well as representatives from other federal agencies, academia, & industry will come together at a workshop this Sat, 12/8 to discuss cannabinoid research. Watch the livestream: https://t.co/pWqZJYBtvf cc: @ACNPorg https://t.co/qubNIzUdwK
— David Shurtleff (@NCCIH_David) December 7, 2018
NCCIH “supports rigorous scientific investigation of natural products such as the cannabis plant and its components (e.g., cannabinoids and terpenes),” the agency wrote.
The goals of the proposed research projects range from identifying the “biological signature” of natural products, which means discovering a replicable biological effect, to determining the best dose and optimal formulation of these products. Researchers interested in taking on the investigations have to submit applications with comprehensive plans for the trials and also obtain clearance from federal agencies charged with regulating controlled substances such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Interestingly, three out of four of the studies highlighted by NCCIH don’t explicitly mention marijuana or cannabinoids; rather, they more broadly cover natural products, which seems to suggest that the agency aims to increase cannabis research through pre-existing funding channels.
While the federal government has historically funded limited studies into marijuana and its components, researchers have struggled to overcome barriers to research that exist for federally banned substances. As more states have legalized cannabis, though, agencies like the NCCIH have started ramping up their calls for research.
At the same time, the DEA has said that it’s streamlining applications for federally-sanctioned marijuana cultivators in order to meet the growing demand for research-grade cannabis products. It authorized 5,400 pounds of cannabis to be grown in 2019—more than five times the amount authorized for this year. The reason for the scaling up is “based solely on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects,” the agency clarified in a Federal Register notice on Monday.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Smoking Marijuana Actually Improves Working Memory, Study Indicates
A new study contains a finding that runs counter to common stereotypes about marijuana and forgetful stoners: smoking cannabis actually seems to improve working memory.
Researchers at the University of Florida acknowledged that their study, which involved rats and was published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning Memory, was unique. Much previous research has concluded that cannabis impairs cognitive performance. But the same time, many of those studies didn’t involve actually inhaling marijuana smoke like this one did.
The team put the 32 rats (split evenly by gender) through a pair of delayed response tasks that involved either finding and pressing a lever a certain amount of times or poking their nose into a feeding trough a certain amount of times—the reward being food pellets, of course. The first few times, the rats were sober; in subsequent experiments, they were exposed to cannabis smoke.
“Cannabis smoke improved working memory accuracy. Placebo smoke did not affect working memory accuracy.”
For male rats, the marijuana didn’t seem to have any effect at all, but for female rats “exposure to cannabis smoke significantly enhanced choice accuracy,” the researchers wrote. That said, baseline performances (prior to exposure) were lower in females compared to males, which “raises the possibility that the enhancing effects in females were due to their relatively worse baseline performance rather than to sex differences in the effects of cannabis per se.”
“The overwhelming majority of research in both animal models and human subjects shows that acute administration of cannabis and cannabinoids induces deficits in tests of cognitive function, including working memory. In contrast, the current experiments show that acute exposure to cannabis smoke enhanced working memory performance in a delayed response task in rats, particularly in females in which baseline levels of task performance were lower than those in males.”