Chemists have created a collection of molecules that may have effects superior to marijuana. They are hybrids of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in weed, and anandamide, the euphoria-causing chemical found in sea urchin eggs.
Researchers intend to use the hybrids as tools to better understand the endocannabinoid system, which partially controls pleasure and pain signals.
In the December issue of Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry, scientists from Organix, a small research and development firm, explained that THC and anandamide each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages.
Anandamide starts working faster than its marijuana-derived counterpart, but it is more quickly destroyed by the body. A fusion of the two chemicals may last longer while maintaining an equal or stronger effect.
At the beginning of the project, organic chemists made a bunch of slightly different molecules that resembled both of their natural inspirations — THC and anandamide. Once those chemicals had been synthesized, other researchers tested them on the proteins that are stimulated by marijuana.
Checking the effects of slight tweaks to the shape of a molecule is called SAR — a structure-activity relationship study. Although the researchers at Organix did not comment on the recreational potential of their new chemicals, their SAR data makes it very clear that the new drugs push the same pleasure buttons as THC and anandamide.
Toward the end of the study, they gave the best experimental chemicals to mice. Small amounts of the most potent molecule prevented them from pulling their tails away from a hot surface. That test, called a tail-flick assay, showed that the new drug is a rather powerful painkiller.