To a lazy person, it may seem counterintuitive that a plant with a reputation for giving people the “munchies” would be used to facilitate weight loss.
- A university has teamed up with a medicinal cannabis company to explore if the plant can be used to help with weight loss
- Researchers say there aren’t many pharmaceutical treatments for obesity
- It’s hoped more research into the plant will help break down the stigma surrounding medicinal cannabis
But in recent years, scientific communities around the world are focusing more attention toward the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, including the potential for the plant to be used to treat obesity.
Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have teamed up with local medical cannabis producer, Little Green Pharma, to investigate the possible application of the plant as an aid for weight loss.
Lead researcher and Professor of Metabolism, Marco Falasca, said the research had the potential to deliver a safer alternative to currently available weight-loss drugs.
“There are not many treatments for obesity, and they all come with side effects,” Professor Falasca said.
“Compounds present in our body control satiety and all the mechanisms related to obesity.”
“We need to use the same mechanisms as nature — this way, we believe we’ll have fewer side effects.”
Professor Falasca acknowledged that, due to negative preconceptions of the cannabis plant, there was still some hesitation from doctors in prescribing medicinal cannabis to patients.
“It’s important to overcome the problem we have with the stigma around cannabinoid research,” Professor Falasca said.
Leon Warne, Head of Research and Innovation at Little Green Pharma, echoed these sentiments but added attitudes were already changing.
“I think there’s certainly a growing wave of doctors who are seeing … the areas where this drug can effectively be used to improve the quality of life of many patients,” Dr Warne said.
How would it work?
Dr Warne explained cannabinoid function was quite complicated and human bodies had a natural cannabinoid system, similar to that found in cannabis plants.
To illustrate how this works in medicine, he used the analogy of a lock and key, where the body’s receptors acted as the lock, whilst the cannabis plant compound functioned as the key.
“When the [plant cannabinoids] engage with that lock, they unearth the natural cannabinoids within the body to have these effects that we are seeing.”
‘Highly experimental’ research in early stages
Medicinal cannabis has been legal in Australia for six years but is very strictly regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration — something Dr Warne believes is a good thing for both patients and research.
“[Due to the] tough regulatory stance of the TGA around ensuring the safety, efficacy and quality standards of medicinal cannabis products, the standard of the medicines we are producing are extremely high,” he said.
“Whilst we might think that places like North America might be more liberal with their approaches towards cannabis, the quality of the medicine is not at the same standards.”
“We have this really great opportunity here in Australia to conduct high-quality research.”
Joe Kosterich, a Perth-based GP and medical adviser to Little Green Pharma, said the validity of the studies being conducted were supported by other international data.
“This is highly early experimental work so it can’t be prescribed on that basis, but the research that’s going to be undertaken in Perth builds on some of this experimental data,” Dr Kosterich said.
“I don’t think we can pre-empt or pre-judge … that’s why you do the research — to find out,” he said.