Israeli scientists develop buzz-free cannabis

Posted on May 30th, 2012 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , .

THCIsraeli scientists have developed a non-psychoative cannabis variety, in what is being portrayed as a boost for medical marijuana. According to Israel's Maariv newspaper, the new variety looks, smells and even tastes "the same" as psychoactive varieties. "It has the same scent, shape and taste as the original plant—it's all the same—but the numbing sensation that users are accustomed to has disappeared," said Tzahi Klein, head of development at Tikkun Olam, the firm that developed what an AFP account calls "the species." Klein adds: "Many of our patients who tried the new plant come back to us and say: 'You tricked me'"—because they assumed they had been given a placebo.

Citing Maariv, AFP reports that Tikkun Olam sought to "neutralise the effect" of the  tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive chemical in pot) and to boost the effect of another substance called CBD, or cannabidiol, which has been shown to help diabetics and to ease various psychiatric disorders. 

The administration of CBD is also "associated with a significant reduction in psychotic symptoms in patients with schizophrenia," according to clinical trial data published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. An international team of researchers from Germany and the US reached these results after "a four week, double-blind, randomized clinical trial," according to a summary on the NORML website.

Wags are having a field day with the Israeli development. The headline on Gizmodo reads: "Killjoy Scientists Have Bred the Fun Out of Marijuana." And the reader who sent us the link to the AFP report slugged his e-mail "I'm not anti-Semitic, but..." (Yuck, yuck.)

However, followers of cannabis science have been on to the CBD angle for some time, and understand that the AFP account garbles things a bit. Probably the Israeli team has not "neutralized the effect" of the THC, but simply bred it out of the strain. For generations, growers attempting to develop more potent strains have been (usually without realizing it) breeding varieties with boosted THC and diminished (if any) CBD. Medicinal growers in California have now been trying to reverse this process with a Project CBD—both because some potential medical users simply don't want to get high, and because of growing evidence of CBD's therapeutic benefits.

It is also unlikely that the Israelis have developed a new "species." Cannabis is a genus, and the three known species are sativa, indica and ruderalis. The Israeli team has presumably developed a new variety of one of these species, or a hybrid thereof. Longtime smokers will also take issue with the notion that THC produces a "numbing sensation." The most potent indicas may produce a slight "numbing" effect, but cannabis generally increases sensitivity. Its pain-releiving properties are generally not analgesic, strictly speaking, but actually more curative, helping the user relax, loosening tight muscles, etc.

Additionally, as medicinal users know, not all psychoactive strains look and smell "the same," and different strains have different therapeutic effects. 

We hope Tikkun Olam and Project CBD are in touch with each other and cooperating and sharing information. We weren't able to find the Israeli firm's website, and (in contrast to Project CBD) it appears to be a for-profit enterprise. However, its directors have pretty clearly got a touch of the hippie spirit. "Tikkun olam" is a Hebrew term for "repairing the world," and has been picked up by various websites that oppose the occupation of Palestine and advocate co-existence between Jews and Arabs.

Graphic of THC molecule from Lycaeum


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