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Sydney scientists hope for pot boom

Medical potential: Labor is offering bipartisan support for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis use within NSW. Photo: Gary MalerbaMany ill people hope that NSW’s moves toward a medical marijuana trial will eventually bring them relief.

But some of Sydney’s leading medical researchers hope it signals an opening of attitudes – and funding – that brings Australia into an age of medical discovery and industry via the cannabis plant.

“In coming decades our understanding is there will be widespread applications for a range of chronic conditions, everything from diabetes to asthma to obesity to PTSD,” said Dr David Allsop, a research fellow in psychopharmacology and addiction medicine at Sydney University.

Premier Mike Baird is expected to announce details this week for funding of three clinical trials. The trials, he says, will be an opportunity “to bring together the best minds in medical cannabis research”.

“I see no reason why NSW cannot also lead the world in this field,” he told Fairfax.

That may have perplexed its advocates who point to medical marijuana’s use in Israeli hospitals and legal status in 23 American states, Spain and Canada.

But scientists say NSW is well positioned to lead the way, because of the exciting pre-clinical research already being undertaken here in spite of restrictions and the potential to involve the state’s fledgling but growing industrial hemp crops, legalised six years ago.

But their hope also reflects the fact that in scientific terms, marijuana is novel and unexplored despite its being used casually for millennia.

THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component, was discovered only in the mid-1960s.

The body’s system of biological receptors for marijuana was found only in the 1990s.

The latest discoveries predate the writing of most medical curriculums, said Associate Professor Nick Lintzeris, also of Sydney University. “We’re in the [early stage] of an impending tsunami of medical uses for cannabis once we get over the fear”.

But THC is arguably not its most interesting potential medical component.

There are about 100 other “cannabinoid” compounds in marijuana. Many produce the opposite effect to that which makes recreational users stare at their hands and order pizza.

THC-V decreases the appetite. It has, scientists say, potential as an obesity treatment; a kind of “anti-munchies”.

About 50 clinical trials worldwide are under way relating to the use of another compound, cannabidiol, or CBD, believed to counteract many of THC’s mind-altering effects.

Part of what makes researchers so interested in marijuana is that only about 10 of its roughly 100 compounds are well enough known for trials to be feasible. The scientific potential of the other 90 remains unexplored.

Pre-clinical research is under way in Sydney.

Researchers here recently completed an animal study looking at the compound’s effect on Alzheimer’s.

They bred mice to have similar symptoms to sufferers of the degenerative disease and then injected them with CBD.

The mice showed major improvements in memory; it brought their mental performance back to the levels of healthy mice.

Oxford-educated Sydney University pyschopharmacology professor Iain McGregor is one of Australia’s leading experts on drugs and the brain.

His research has looked at the effects of marijuana compounds on pain, epileptic seizures and appetite.

He thinks treatment for Australia’s growing problem of methamphetamine addiction should be one of the drug’s first applications: something for which there is little treatment other than agonising detox.

“You’ve got something [cannabidiol] that reduces cravings for stimulants and that treats psychotic symptoms.

“It’s a barbecue stopper. Why can’t we do that study now?”

The answer, of course, relates to the burden of researching a drug that is not legal.

Professor McGregor was recently involved in a study that analysed the kinds of marijuana in wide use in NSW.

They found, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was geared heavily towards THC.

But interestingly, it had very little cannabidiol, the compound credited with so much of its medicinal benefits.

The medical experts advising the NSW government have suggested it allow children with epilepsy, chemotherapy patients and the terminally ill to openly trial treatment for their conditions.

Medical marijuana often comes as a tincture, which can be ingested, or even applied to the skin. It can also be grown to have almost no psychoactive properties; it won’t get you high.

But researchers hope the Premier’s changes will spur the freeing and funding of research into marijuana’s therapeutic value.

“Is this a marginal area that’s only going to affect some minor conditions or are we on the verge of a modern rediscovery?” Associate Professor Lintzeris said. “All the data suggests it’s the latter: We’re talking about a mega-billion-dollar industry.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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