Dr. Joong Youn Shim and Dr. Allyn Howlett are looking at a molecular model of a protein helix in a brain cell that works as a receptor site for THC, the active compound in cannabis or marijuana.
"The active compounds in marijuana are good pain relievers. That's a good therapeutic use, but on the other hand, the side effects are muddled thinking, loss of short-term memory and sleepiness," Howlett said.
With a clear picture of how THC interacts with the brain's receptors, the research team believes it can master the drug's effects.
"If we're ever going to use these compounds medicinally, we want to eliminate those side effects," Howlett said.
Some cancer patients on chemotherapy claim marijuana relieves nausea. Others with multiple sclerosis said it stops the pain of tight muscles. Without a Food and Drug Administration-approved form of the drug, many people demand the right to use it in its raw form.
"Their argument is that they need to smoke it. It gets into their body very quickly," Howlett said.
However, the raw form can and does get into the hands of drug dealers and drug abusers. If this research succeeds, the hope is that the drug could be available in a safe form that would not be a hot commodity for recreational users.
Graduate students at North Carolina Central are a big part of the research, which means valuable experience for them as they may be looking for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry.
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