New Anti-Munchies Obesity Treatment Based on THC Model
> 1/11/2008 11:14:26 AM

Building on the same chemical model responsible for marijuana's well-established "munchies" effect, researchers have created a drug designed to curb the frequent binge-eating urges of dangerously overweight patients.

A preference for extended bouts of snacking is one of marijuana's most (in)famous side effects, as users often develop a chips-and-soda habit alongside a general sense of lethargy, an obsession with World of Warcraft and an irrational affection for Monty Python and mid-period Pink Floyd. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive agent responsible for providing the "high" sensation associated with marijuana, also stimulates activity in the brain's hypothalamus region, an area long known to be responsible for the regulation of appetite and food intake. Suppressing production of the regulatory hormone leptin, THC counteracts the chemical reaction that lets the body know when it's consumed enough food.

Some severely obese individuals suffer from a genetically-based leptin shortage, and the absence of leptin, oddly, allows for the creation of additional neural pathways or routes by which the brain may stimulate the hunger instinct. Driven by an ever-present appetite, leptin-deficient individuals simply overeat themselves into poor health in an ongoing attempt to satisfy that insatiable urge. To reinforce the genetic angle, researchers found that leptin-deficient mice, if provided with the hormone early in life, were far less likely to develop into obese adults. But when these supplements began in adulthood, the mice remained severely overweight, implying that the brain develops a particular relationship with the hormone that works to almost irreversibly shape physical development and future behavioral patterns. It would appear that some are simply destined to be obese.

Most obese individuals, however, display evidence not of a leptin shortage but of an irregularity in the way the brain processes and responds to the substance. Those missing the leptin gene almost always grow morbidly obese, but irregular individuals, while prone to long-term weight gain, don't tend toward such extremes. When provided with leptin supplements, these patients quickly begin to consume fewer calories and lose weight in clinical settings, again highlighting the hormone's relationship to the hunger cycle. Insatiable appetites are clearly more genetic than voluntary. And many obese individuals truly cannot escape the influence of their neurological anomalies.

By designing a drug (taranabant) that facilitates the release of leptin in a manner diametrically opposed to that brought about by THC, researchers have developed a new approach to the obesity epidemic. Previous attempts at such medications failed due to unforseen depressive side effects similar to the "burnout" experienced by many marijuana users. But, despite some similar reports of heightened depression and anxiety among patients receiving the largest doses of taranabant, the results of this most recent trial are almost uniformly positive: during the 12-week study, patients lost weight even when given very small doses of the medication. Those at the highest dosage levels lost almost one pound pre week and registered considerably higher levels of energy expenditure when resting, a pattern indicating a notably increased rate of metabolism.

Because of the potentially explosive popularity of this drug and the effect it may have on the American public as a whole, further experiments must be performed to allay the concerns of those who see it as a possible source of depression and anxiety. And those looking for a miracle drug that will allow them to continue feeding their unhealthy dietary habits without the accompanying weight gain should not hold their breath. In our incessant desire for instant cure-alls, we cannot overestimate the benefits of successful medications. Taranbant's relationship with marijuana is tangential at best; it will not heighten the intensity of primary colors or allow for a more immersive home theater experience. It will not lead one to more fully appreciate the natural beauty of their surroundings or the guitar mastery of Stevie Ray Vaughan. But for those whose genes place them at an increased risk of unsustainable weight gain, obesity and unsatisfied hunger, this drug may, along with a more sensible diet and regular physical activity, prove to be a very helpful ally in the fight against fat.


Aren't most obese individuals leptin resistant rather than deficient? Therefore, limiting the population in which this drug would be effective.
Posted by: Claire 1/14/2008 10:36:20 AM

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