Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jun 2019
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2019 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Brooke Staggs


In the next few weeks, Nicholas DiPatrizio's lab at UC Riverside will
receive a shipment of marijuana.

DiPatrizio, a professor of biomedical sciences, then will begin giving
mice precise doses of cannabis oil to see how marijuana impacts their
weight and a host of serious health conditions often linked to obesity.

The study marks the first time UC Riverside has received federal
approval to conduct research on marijuana -- or any other substance in
the Drug Enforcement Administration's strict Schedule I category. It
also marks the school's first cannabis-related grant, with $744,000
from tobacco taxes being used to finance this three-year research
project on how marijuana affects metabolic health.

UC Riverside is now one of seven schools in the University of
California system that have successfully navigated the challenging
regulatory process required to study the impact of cannabis on human

Scientists at UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UCSF and UC
Santa Cruz also have received federal approval for marijuana research
projects, according to Sara McBride, spokeswoman for the University of
California Office of the President.

Those scientists are looking at everything from how cannabis affects
drivers to the drug's possible use in controlling infant seizures. And
they're doing so despite roadblocks that can make marijuana research a
complex, lengthy and pricey endeavor.

DiPatrizio says the effort will be more than worth it if he can help
the world better understand and harness marijuana's potential to lower
obesity and boost metabolic health.

"This field is sort of still in its infancy," he said. "But that's
exciting. We have a lot to learn."

The concept behind DiPatrizio's upcoming study on how cannabis might
reduce obesity-linked conditions might seem paradoxical to people who
assume marijuana always leads to the munchies.

There is truth to that stereotype. Twenty years ago, when DiPatrizio
was an undergraduate student at Temple University, research showed
that rats tended to binge on food the first day they were exposed to
significant doses of THC, the main compound in marijuana that makes
people feel high. And Nielsen Research group released a study this
week showing that sales of sweet and salty snacks grew at faster rates
in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

But the process that links THC with appetite doesn't work in only one

Based on the "munchies" phenomena, a drug company developed an
anti-obesity pill called rimonabant that, though it did not receive
approval in the United States, entered the European market in 2006
under the trade name Acomplia.

To understand how the drug worked, and how DiPatrizio's study might
work, you have to first understand a bit about the endocannabinoid

Humans produce a range of chemical compounds called endocannabinoids,
which are similar to compounds found in marijuana. These naturally
occurring compounds help keep our bodies stable by binding to
cannabinoid receptors on cell membranes throughout the body. They also
control the release of chemical messengers that regulate everything
from how we experience pain to our moods and appetites.

What the makers of rimonabant found was that if they could block
naturally occurring endocannabinoids from binding to cell receptors in
the gut, they could effectively control hunger impulses, boost
metabolism and help patients lose weight.

However, humans also have cannabinoid receptors in their brains. And
when those receptors were blocked by rimonabant, patients experienced
depression and suicidal thoughts. So in 2008, the drug was yanked from
the European market.

Since then, researchers have been working on alternatives, hoping to
come up with a drug that blocks hunger-related endocannabinoid signals
in the gut without crossing the blood-brain barrier.

But what DiPatrizio and others have found is that the opposite
approach also might be effective.

His theory is connected to the Temple University study he worked on in
the late 1990s.

While the rats in that study binged on food on the first day they were
exposed to marijuana, they stopped overeating by day three. And
DiPatrizio said that pattern held for the rest of the week.

Observational studies have similarly shown that chronic cannabis
consumers tend to be leaner than the average population and therefore
have lower risks of dangerous metabolic conditions linked to obesity,
such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

DiPatrizio and others have hypothesized that introducing cannabis into
the system initially sends endocannabinoid receptors into overdrive,
which can make food taste better and stop consumers from feeling full.
But after repeated cannabis exposure, the body seems to adapt, slowing
those hunger impulses.

That doesn't mean DiPatrizio is recommending people who want to lose
weight start smoking marijuana. In fact, today, he has more questions
than answers about this theory.

That's where his new study comes in.

DiPatrizio, plus a team of four graduate students and an "army" of
undergraduate researchers, will soon begin feeding separate groups of
mice two types of diets. Some will get lean foods, while others will
be fed high-fat, high-sugar "western style" diets. The researchers
also will give some mice pure THC, and give other mice all of the
compounds found in marijuana. The idea is to learn if THC alone, or in
combination with other chemicals found in marijuana, can be effective
at regulating weight and metabolic conditions.

Since tobacco use is linked to Type 2 diabetes, grant funding for the
study came from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, which is
administered by the UC system.

DiPatrizio said over the next few weeks they expect to order some
cannabis from the only federally sanctioned supplier of research-grade
cannabis, at the University of Mississippi. Then they'll get to work,
with hopes of publishing an initial round of findings in about a year.

With both hemp and marijuana now legalized, interest in rigorous
studies and effective products made from cannabis are both in high
demand. So, without actually administering marijuana, UC Riverside
researchers have been collecting data and doing observational studies
on other potential health benefits, risks and uses of cannabis.

For example, DiPatrizio has been working with an immunologist at the
school to look at how cannabis consumption might help reduce
complications from hookworm.

And chemical and environmental engineering students at UC Riverside
have received up to $15,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency
this spring to study greener ways to make construction materials from
hemp, a type of cannabis plant that contains almost no THC.

Hempcrete, as construction materials made from hemp are called, are
sustainable and energy efficient. But the common method for making
hempcrete produces toxic waste. So UC Riverside students, led by Prof.
Charles Cai, are trying to use a technology invented at the school to
produce hempcrete without generating any toxic byproducts.

They hope to get up to $100,000 more in EPA funds to take their new
hempcrete product method to market, with Cai noting they've already
been contacted by interested businesses.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt