Recreational drugs are a ridiculously fun topic for scientific research. They could also be the inspiration for powerful new medications. We are often amazed by the fascinating, and sometimes hilarious, stories that make their way into peer-reviewed journals. Here are some of our very favorites:
5. Harvard Scientists Build a Device to Smoke Weed During a Brain Scan
To better understand addiction, and how to treat it, scientists need to get a better look at the human brain as it is under the influence of weed. Unfortunately, smoking weed inside the narrow chamber of a functional MRI is not easy. To prevent smoke damage and allow their research subjects to puff without moving around too much, Blaise Frederick and his team at Harvard built what amounts to a giant bong.
4. Stanford Chemists make THC from Scratch
Since 1965, chemists have been trying to make the active ingredient of marijuana [pdf]from scratch. Back then, the researchers could only make tetrahydrocannabinol along with its enantiomers -- impurities that have the same chemical composition, but a different shape. Then, in 2006, a pair of chemists from Stanford University used a Molybdenum catalyst and other sophisticated techniques to produce the coveted molecule in its pure form. Despite their discovery, mother nature is still the best chemist and closets with high-intensity lamps will outperform the most sophisticated laboratories.
3. Researchers Learn How Salvia Works
Diviner's sage contains a powerful hallucinogen that may someday inspire a new class of depression, pain, and addiction medications. In at least one instance, a woman has used the substance to rid herself of depression. Tests on animals have shown that the Oxaccan plant, a relative of the culinary herb, can also control pain.
Last year, Catherine Willmore and her colleagues at Ohio Northern University ended a controversy about how the drug works. In the Sep. 2007 issue of Neruopharmacology, she explained that the active chemical, Salvinorin A, binds to signal-carrying proteins called kappa opioid receptors.
Willmore and her team trained rats to recognize the sensations caused by a well-understood drug that also targets kappa opioid receptors. It is impossible to know exactly how the rats felt during the test, but they could not tell the difference between the active chemical in sage and the one they had been trained to identify. Since the drugs feel the same, both of them must activate the same target.
2. British Army Tests LSD on Soldiers
1. Researchers Combine Chemicals from Sea Urchin Eggs and Weed to Make Powerful Painkillers
Scientists at organix, a small research and development firm, made hybrid molecules which resemble the euphoria-causing compounds THC and anandamide. In the Dec. 2007 issue of Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry they explained that both drugs 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.
Although the researchers at Organix did not comment on the recreational potential of their new chemicals, their data makes it very clear that the new drugs push the same pleasure buttons as THC and anandamide.
Image Credit: Blaise Frederick / Harvard