Source: By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter, April 13 2014

In a secluded lab in Pullman, furry vermin are providing startling revelations about marijuana and its effects on the sexes.

Rebecca Craft, a researcher at Washington State University, has been studying the creatures, male and female rats, to see if they react differently to the drug.

And it looks like she’s on to something, especially when it comes to THC, the chemical in marijuana that creates a sense of euphoria for recreational users. It’s a finding that women who use the plant may want to consider, she said.

Research potential

There are a wide variety of potential uses for marijuana that advocates say need further study. Among them:

• Nerve disorders.

• Pain relief.

• Multiple sclerosis symptom relief.

• Slowing or prevention of memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.

• Reduction of some cancer tumors.

• Nausea relief.

• Appetite enhancement.

• Rheumatoid arthritis pain.

• Reduction of muscle spasticity.

• Reduction of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

• Reduction of migraine headaches.

“Female (rats) show a spike in THC (sensitivity) right around the time they’re ovulating,” she said. “I suspect that’s true in humans too, but there are no studies on that yet.”

The discovery means that women who are ovulating may have a much stronger reaction to the THC, possibly because it gets amplified when it interacts with estrogen, she said.

And as the legalization and sales process moves along and marijuana becomes more readily available in Washington and Colorado, that sort of knowledge could certainly be useful.

But while the research suggests a possible dosage problem for women, it could be a long time before studies are done on humans.

That’s because of the extremely complex bureaucratic process required for clinical trials of marijuana in the United States — a process that has made many researchers give up on the idea of researching it.

As pot stores begin to open in Vancouver and around the state, there’s a lot more we don’t know about the active ingredients in marijuana, a consequence of strict anti-drug laws and a federal classification that says the plant has no benefits and is unsafe to use.

Even animal studies, while not as strict as human trials, require “a lot of hoops to jump through” for researchers that want to learn more, Craft said.

“It’s unfortunate, but you can count on one hand the number of human studies done in this country,” she said. “It’s possible to get approval, but people are just very leery, I think for political reasons.”

And those that make it through the process can face a whole other set of issues.

There was another WSU animal marijuana researcher, psychology professor Michael Morgan, who had a federally funded and approved study to look at the drug’s potential as pain medicine in 2009 at WSU Vancouver. At the time he was awarded $148,438 in federal stimulus funds from the National Institutes of Health.

But Morgan ended up in Republican Dino Rossi’s cross hairs during Rossi’s 2010 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. Rossi, who lost the campaign, publicly said several disparaging things about Morgan’s efforts to study the plant.

“Washington state taxpayers are tired of their money going up in smoke,” Rossi’s office said in a press release at the time. “This bill isn’t going to stimulate anything other than sales of Cheetos.”

Because of the political backlash, Morgan ended his project. He also declined to be interviewed for this story because of the negative press that surrounded his project, officials at the university said.

Still, there are signs things might be changing.

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and 13 other states have legislation for medical use pending.

Recreational marijuana is legal in two states. And about 58 percent of the country supports legalization of the drug nationwide, according to a Gallup poll released last fall.

Those changing attitudes about marijuana could change the atmosphere toward studying the plant. But a lot still has to change if the country wants to ease restrictions on the scientific process, and it’s not clear yet if legalization of marijuana in Washington will help those who to study the plant locally.

The problem

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug in the United States as part of the Controlled Substances Act. The classification, which it’s held since 1970, defines it as having no medical benefits, no safe use and a high potential for abuse.

But that’s not what many researchers think. Worldwide studies have shown it to be useful for treating pain, reducing nausea and increasing appetite, among a growing list of other things.

It also doesn’t seem to be what many voters think, at least in the states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The federal government, for that matter, doesn’t seem to agree with its own classification. It has approved at least one pharmaceutical derived from THC, Marinol, since 1999. And the Food and Drug Administration also has a handful of other marijuana-derived drugs in the pipeline awaiting the go-ahead for clinical trials.

And yet, pot is actually more restricted than some of the other Schedule I drugs, including heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.

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