Synthetic marijuana interview by Dirk Hanson, The Chemical Carousel
Sep23

Synthetic marijuana interview by Dirk Hanson, The Chemical Carousel

A hearty welcome to readers arriving via referrals from Dr. Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks and Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. We’ve been writing about synthetic marijuana science and regulation for almost two years and have been impressed by the widespread interest. For more information, click here for a handy compilation of our writing on the subject.   I’m always tickled to death to be asked to talk about natural products pharmacology and chemistry whether anyone wants to hear about it or not. So, when I was approached for an interview by science writer and author, Dirk Hanson, I couldn’t help but say, “YES!” Dirk is perhaps best known as author of the outstanding book on substance dependence, The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. I’ve come to know him through the blogosphere at his blog, The Addiction Inbox. As readers here know, working in natural products invariably brings one to the topic of drugs of abuse since many such compounds are used recreationally for their activity in the central nervous system. Dirk has also been doing a terrific job as writer and editor for a new webzine directed toward the recovery community called The Fix (“Addiction and Recovery, Straight Up”). He’s been wonderfully kind to list us here at Terra Sig on their bloglist as a source of nonjudgmental, scientifically-based information on substances of potential abuse. I was honored to be selected as Dirk’s second subject after his interview with the internationally-recognized clinical psychologist and researcher from King’s College London, Vaughan Bell. So when he asked me, I said that I’d definitely do it (but sadly put it off due to grant-writing). So without further adieu, here’s my interview with Dirk Hanson at The Addition...

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Kitchen Chemistry: Rose Jelly. Sweet!
Sep16

Kitchen Chemistry: Rose Jelly. Sweet!

Today, we bring you a fun, educational guest post from our friend and colleague, DrRubidium, a chemist researching and teaching on the Pacific Northwest. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrRubidium – DJK. This summer, I began experimenting with jams and jellies, whipping up sweet and savory spreads in my kitchen laboratory. Blackberry, strawberry, grape, pineapple, tomato herb… rose? After tasting rose jelly at a local farmer’s market, I decided make it at home. The selected rose jelly recipe was easy: Steep hand-washed rose petals in water Filter out and discard solids, retain liquid (rose extract) Add sugar to rose extract Reach rolling boil Add pectin (read about the science of pectin here) Return to rolling boil Bottle and seal jars. This recipe doesn’t just yield jelly, it also provides a great example of acid-base chemistry. The recipe’s author writes… Put the petals in a stainless steel saucepan with a litre of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. They will completely lose their colour, and the water will turn a murky shade of reddish-brown, deliciously scented. Strain this into a glass bowl and cool. Next you add the lemon juice, and a magical thing happens – the murky brown suddenly becomes a beautiful and bright pink. This color change isn’t magic, it’s the acid-base chemistry of anthocyanins. These compounds are the reason roses are red and violets are blue. Particular anthocyanins give us the blue of blueberries and the red of strawberries, along with the color variety that are autumn leaves. Anthocyanins are sensitive to pH, appearing different colors (or colorless) at a low (acidic) pH to high (basic/alkaline) pH. The changing color of anthocyanins over a wide pH range allows these compounds to be used as pH indicators. Anthocyanins have a long history of being used to test the acidity and alkalinity of substances. Back in 1664, famed scientist Robert Boyle discussed anthocyanins (‘Syrup of Violets’) as pH indicators in Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours. For roses, the anthocyanin of interest is likely anthocyanidin 3,5-O-diglucoside. In water, anthocyanidin 3,5-O-diglucoside will change forms with changes to pH giving solutions of different colors. Step #1 of the rose jelly recipe (steeping rose petals) likely results in a rose extract containing a bit of this anthocyadin. At low pH, anthocyanidin 3,5-O-diglucoside is a form that appears red. The picture directly above (right) indicates that after recipe step #1, the rose extract is not at a low enough pH to give a rose-red color. Adding lemon juice fixes that (below left). Instead of making the rose extract more acidic, what if it was made more alkaline? This...

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Norman R. Farnsworth, grandaddy of medicinal plant research, passes at 81
Sep13

Norman R. Farnsworth, grandaddy of medicinal plant research, passes at 81

Professor Norman Farnsworth, a true giant of pharmacognosy research, left us on Saturday night in Chicago. Farnsworth was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the institution where he made his mark over the last 41 years studying the medicinal properties of agents from natural origins. In 1982, he established the UIC Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, a model for today’s interdisciplinary research programs.  Farnsworth also led the UIC/NIH Center for Dietary Supplements Research has been the most productive and continuously-operating center of its type in the US. A decorated Korean War veteran, Farnsworth received his B.S. in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in 1953 and his PhD in pharmacognosy from the University of Pittsburgh. He remained at Pitt on faculty until joining UIC in 1970. Farnsworth was truly a seminal figure in medicinal plant chemistry and biology, serving as a founder of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) and the Society for Economic Botany, both in 1959. He was still a graduate student when he served as the first vice-president and second president of the ASP. Farnsworth had also served for the last 35 years on the editorial board of the Journal of Natural Products, the premier journal of the discipline from the American Chemical Society. He later founded the German-based journal, Phytomedicine, with another outstanding scientist, his longtime University of Munich colleague, Dr Hildebert Wagner. Word of his passing circulated among research collaborators over the weekend but I wanted to respect the institution’s press office until something official came out late yesterday afternoon. The good folks at the American Botanical Council led with this lovely retrospective – a sampling: A larger-than-life figure, Norm Farnsworth was rarely seen without his trademark Marsh-Wheeling cigars in his mouth, even long after he was forced to give up smoking. As venues allowing smoking in public places diminished over the past two decades, Prof. Farnsworth would often be seen in a restaurant or public area with one of his cigars in his mouth, even after being admonished by waiters who told him that smoking was not permitted. Farnsworth would point out the obvious fact that he was not smoking, that the cigar was not lit, and would continue to keep the cigar in his mouth, seeming to relish the opportunity to keep walking up to the line, but not exceeding it. He was highly-respected and admired in life and now remembered fondly by his former students, mentees, and friends. Often seen as brash and outspoken, frequently critical of other scientists and institutions which to him...

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