Cannabis could be used to treat obesity-related diseases

Researchers have discovered two compounds from cannabis leaves that can increase the amount of energy the body burns.

Test in animals have already shown the compounds can help treat type two diabetes while also helping to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood stream and fat in key organs like the liver.

They are now conducting clinical trials in 200 patients in the hope of producing a drug that can be used to treat patients suffering from “metabolic syndrome”, where diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity combine to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Dr Stephen Wright, director of research and development at GW Pharmaceuticals which is developing the drugs, said: “We are conducting four Phase 2a clinical trials and we expect some results later this year.

The results in animal models have been very encouraging. We are interested in how these drugs effect the fat distribution and utilisation in the body as a treatment for metabolic diseases”.

Humans have been using these plants for thousands of years so we have quite a lot of experience of the chemicals in the plants.

Although cannabis is an illegal drug, GW Pharmaceuticals has been granted a license to grow the plant in specially constructed greenhouses on a secret facility in the south of England.

It produces cannabis plants that have been bred to express different quantities of compounds known as cannabinoids. They are already developing drugs that can be used to treat multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

Although cannabis is better known for inducing hunger in those who smoke it, known as the munchies. when the scientists examined two compounds, called THCV and cannabidiol, they were found to have an appetite suppressing effect.

This effect only lasts for a short time, however. When the scientists looked closer, they found the compounds also had an impact on the level of fat in the body and its response to insulin, a hormone that controls the sugar levels in the blood.

Tests in mice showed the compounds boosted the animals metabolism, leading to lower levels of fat in their livers and reduced cholesterol in their blood stream.

THCV was also found to increase the animals sensitivity to insulin while also protecting the cells that produce insulin, allowing them to work better and for longer.

It has raised hopes that the drugs can be developed into treatments for obesity related diseases and type 2 diabetes.

Professor Mike Cawthorne, director of metabolic research at the University of Buckingham who has been conducting the animal studies, said: “Overall, it seems these molecules increase energy expenditure in the cells of the body by increasing the metabolism.”