In 1994, the National Institute on Drug Abuse -- one of the most marijuana unfriendly bastions of the federal government -- produced a chart entitled “Comparing Dangers of Popular Drugs.” Nicotine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, caffeine and cannabis were all ranked on a scale from one (least serious) to six (most serious) in several categories. When it came to “dependence” and “withdrawal,” marijuana rated a one: less serious even than caffeine.
So now imagine if you saw a commercial on television for an all-new prescription pill that promised to help end your cycle of coffee addiction. And it worked by short-wiring the section of your brain that processes pleasure. Does that sound like a good trade off?
Naturally, this would never fly. But researchers have been seeking a similar pharmaceutical option for treating marijuana abuse. Most recently, the scholarly journal Nature Neuroscience published a paper entitled “Reducing cannabinoid abuse and preventing relapse by enhancing endogenous brain levels of kynurenic acid.” In the paper the University of Maryland claimed promising results in drastically reducing rats' self-administration of THC by artificially increasing levels of the naturally-occurring chemical kynurenic acid in their brains.
Since this excess kynerinic acid acts to block dopamine from working, and THC produces a high in large part by boosting dopamine activity, the “treatment” would theoretically work by stopping marijuana from producing the pleasurable sensations for which people ingest it, thus eliminating the biological imperative to engage in that behavior. Or, in layman's terms: If smoking pot no longer gets you blazed, it would be easier to quit.
Sounds like the time Big Pharma got to thinking about how smoking marijuana gives you “the munchies,” and decided that if they could only block that mechanism somehow, the result would definitely make for a first-class diet drug. The result was Rimonabant, designed to aid weight loss in obese patients by blocking the body’s natural cannabinoid-1 receptors. Never heard of it? That's probably because a planned 33-month study of Rimonabant ended after little more than a year, due to increased suicide risk among those given the drug in clinical trials. “Patients taking Rimonabant reported feeling severely depressed and having serious thoughts about committing suicide,” Psychology Today reported. “It was as though the patients had lost their ability to experience pleasure... [Which] tells neuroscientists that our endogenous marijuana system is normally involved, either directly or indirectly, in controlling our mood and allowing us to experience pleasure; antagonizing the actions of this chemical in the brain leads to depression with possibly dangerous consequences.”
Even Robert Schwarza, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland and co-author of the new marijuana abuse study, sees the potential danger in such chemical cures. “Too much dopamine is bad for us, but too little dopamine is bad for us too,” he said. “So we have to be careful not to decrease dopamine levels too much.”
As for kynurenic acid, his study's means of blocking dopamine, it's like throwing “gasoline onto the fire” of schizophrenia, according to researchers at Ohio State University, among other potentially serious health risks.
Most frightening of all, whatever anti-pot pill the government and the pharmaceutical companies come up with won't be taken by desperate “marijuana addicts” unable to shake their life-shattering habits. It will be force fed to those unlucky souls caught up in the criminal justice system and made to either open wide or face jail time.
Already, last month, an Ohio judge, for the first time, ordered a defendant to ingest Vivitrol, a non-narcotic drug that blocks opiates and alcohol from working on the brain. One teenaged prisoner underwent the first of up to 12 court-ordered injections while still behind bars.
And they say this is a free country.