According to a new British study, marijuana leaves (not the buds that Willie Nelson loves so dearly) contain two compounds that boost the metabolism of mice, leading to lower levels of fat and cholesterol in the body — the latest addition to a growing body of evidence that marijuana may be useful in countering ailments related to obesity. One study in March found that a brain chemical similar in structure to an active compound in cannibis could help people shed weight, while another study last September concluded that pot smokers were less likely to be obese than non-potheads, though for reasons that remain unclear. The researchers at Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals who are responsible for the latest weed development are already testing the two compounds on humans. Here, a guide to their findings:
So the company is allowed to grow and dispense marijuana?
Yes. Although marijuana is illegal in England, says Doug Barry at Jezebel, GW Pharmaceuticals, an "enormous multinational drug corporation equipped with all the magic passwords for dodging government regulations," was granted a license to grow the plant in specially constructed greenhouses at a secret location in the south of England.
What exactly did researchers learn from tests on mice?
The two compounds, THCV and cannabidiol, boosted the rodents' metabolisms — reducing fat levels in their livers and cholesterol levels in their bloodstreams — and also made the mice more sensitive to insulin and protected the cells that produce insulin, "allowing [the cells] to work better and for longer." The combined effects improved the mice's ability to burn off energy.
And the compounds didn't make mice hungry the way smoking weed affects humans?
Actually, the compounds were found to have an appetite-suppressing effect, but the effect only lasted for a short time.
When might this marijuana drug be available?
Results from a second round of clinical trials are expected later this year, but it could be a while before a resulting drug hits the market. Still, GW Pharmaceuticals has a decent track record: They already produce a cannabinoid that treats cancer pain and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. As clinical trials continue, researchers hope to learn how to treat patients suffering from "metabolic syndrome," in which ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity combine to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- How to be the star of a cocktail party where you don't know anyone
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- How to develop and defend smart opinions
Subscribe to the Week