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Synthetic marijuana for pharmacists

As a former pharmacy professor, I’m honored that a couple of our old and new blogposts have been picked up by colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. Clinical Assistant Professor and drug information specialist, Jennifer Seltzer, PharmD, and her intern, Tiffany LaDow, PharmD, included us in their online durg information alert entitled, “‘Spice’ It Up – A New Way to Get High: What Pharmacists Need to Know.”

This type of distillation by LaDow and Seltzer is representative of exactly the kinds of briefs I used to enjoy writing for the Colorado Pharmacists’ Society and are what motivated my establishment of this blog when I was out of academia. I always found that practicing pharmacists appreciated these kinds of timely alerts complete with the basic science underlying these developments.

My only suggestion to my pharmacy colleagues is that they might care to embed hyperlinks in their reference list. I’m not being entirely self-serving (although I appreciate the readership). If you’re going to go through the trouble to reference blogposts and other peer-reviewed references complete with the URLs, just embed the URLs for easy clicking. In fact, one of the URLs in the reference list has a spacing issue that improperly directs the readers when copying-and-pasting.

Nevertheless, thank you for directing Texas pharmacists to our humble little blog!

Thanks to TIME Healthland writer and author, Maia Szalavitz
While we’re on this topic, I also need to thank science journalist, Maia Szalavitz, for citing our work yesterday in the widely-read TIME Healthland blog where she is a regular contributor. “Outlawing ‘Legal Highs:’ Can Emergency Bans Hinder Drug Development?” addresses the often-overlooked consequences of broadly assigning compounds to Schedule I of the US Controlled Substances Act: Compounds that may not have been adequately studied for therapeutic benefit might never be fully investigated if relegated to this most-restricted status. By definition, Schedule I compounds have no known medical benefit. However, if they are not studied for medical benefit, none will be found.

In support of this notion, Szalvitz cited a 2005 Journal of Neuroscience paper from a Spanish neurodegeneration research group led by Dr. Maria de Ceballos at Madrid’s Cajal Institute. Following from work showing that senile plaques from Alzheimer’s disease patients express cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, the investigators showed that synthetic cannabinoids can prevent β-amyloid peptide-induced activation of microglial cells, known to produce inflammatory mediators that are neurotoxic.

Preventing an major neurodegenerative disease with psychoactive compounds might not necessarily lead to a major therapeutic advance. However, the basic pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders can certainly be advanced by access to these research tools. DEA licensing of research laboratories enables this work to proceed in US academic institutions but moving from Schedule I to a pharmacotherapeutic agent is without precedent, if I recall correctly.

Sources:
LaDow T and Seltzer J. “Spice” it Up – A New Way to Get High What Pharmacists Need to Know. Drug Information Alert, College of Pharmacy, University of Texas at Austin. 14 February 2011.

Szalavitz M. Outlawing ‘Legal Highs:’ Can Emergency Bans Hinder Drug Development? TIME Healthland. 23 February 2011.

Ramirez BG, Blázquez C, Gómez del Pulgar T, Guzmán M, and de Ceballos MT. (2005) Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology by Cannabinoids: Neuroprotection Mediated by Blockade of Microglial Activation. J Neuroscience 25:1904-1913; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4540-04.2005

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