Cannabis research may yield new diet drug, Israeli researcher says

Illustration courtesy pf Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Illustration courtesy of Hebrew University of Jerusalem

While cannabis science in the U.S. remains heavily politicized and mired in red tape, our international ally, Israel, is racing ahead.

On Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 6 p.m., The California Israel Chamber of Commerce, American Friends of Hebrew University, and financial advisors WGD Partners host a V.I.P. cocktail reception and discussion with Dr. Yossi Tam, Director of Cannabinoid Research at the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The center, established in 2016 to foster research collaboration, includes 30 different scientists working on cannabis research projects.

Today, we feature an edited Q&A with Dr. Tam, where he discusses new cannabis-based diet drugs on the horizon, cannabis treatments for cancer, and why Israel is ahead of the U.S. on cannabis science.

His talk “Launching Breakthroughs in Human Health” is at the Stanford Research Park at 1400 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto at 6 p.m. this evening and and is free with an RSVP.

GreenState: First, what’s your opinion… Is Israeli cannabis research more advanced than research in the U.S.?

Dr. Yossi Tam: In a way, of course, it is much more advanced because we’ve been able to conduct research for the past 55 years. This is much more than in The United States where it was banned for medical use or clinical trials and so on. We have been doing it for quite a long time. Therefore there is a big difference.

Can you give some examples?

First of all 55 years ago, Professor Raphael Mechoulam isolated the active components of cannabis, THC and CBD and this is basically the starting point for everything that’s happened in this field, both in Israel but also around the globe. These findings, basically supported the fact that there are active compounds in the plant that might affect our body.

Later on was the discovery of the receptors for the cannabis plant. And from that point, we also discovered the fact that endocannabinoids are produced by our body and activate the same receptors that cannabis does. While these are all very old examples of the research that’s been done in the field, these were breakthroughs . And at that time, they enabled Israel to proceed with other research in different fields. This was not done in the states, but was done in Israel.

Dr. Yossi Tam is working toward a new diet drug based off cannabis research.
Dr. Yossi Tam is working toward a new diet drug based off cannabis research.

What are you finding in your own research on using cannabinoids for obesity and metabolism issues?

You probably know that cannabis causes the munchies. . . . Food intake in humans, in animals, and so on, it does it through the activation of the CB1 receptor, mostly in the brain, but also in the peripheral organs. We are trying to find a way to block the CB1 receptor by synthetic compound to develop a new anti-obesity drug. We were fortunate to have developed such a compound with a small biotech company, which blocks CB1 receptors but only in the peripheral organs, not the brain. We don’t want to get the side effects that were associated with blocking the cb1 receptor in the brain with a drug that was developed in the past.

The animals we are testing our drug on are reducing their weight, food intake and are improving their whole metabolic system.

There’s lots of claims being bandied about around cannabis’ effects on cancer? Can cannabis cure cancer? Does it have anti-cancer properties?

First, according to the National Academy of Sciences, there is no evidence that cannabis could actually treat cancer. This is what they found after reviewing more than 10,000 manuscripts and publications in different fields. It might be beneficial for cancer, but we really don’t know yet. There are specific strains that could be beneficial and others will not do anything. So, in order to do this we need to extend our knowledge.

There are some cancers, at least from a scientific point of view, where cannabis enhances the proliferation, whereas with others, it blocks the proliferation. Cancer is a big word. You need to narrow it down to a specific cancer with a specific strain of cannabis. There’s no general answer to such a huge question.

Look into your crystal ball — what cannabinoid prescription drugs will be available for what indications in the next five years?

This is a hard question to answer. Most of our knowledge is based on the effects of only two to six different cannabinoids present in the plant, mostly THC and CBD. Having known that this plant contains around 1400 different compounds, including cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenoids, then we might, by understanding their activity, find out that strains that are not used today will be used in the future for treating medical conditions.

This is some of the work we are doing at the center, trying to tackle this question and answer whether other compounds present in the plant, could also have some therapeutic potential, and therefore we can modulate the plant genetically, in order to have different strains at our reach with these unknown compounds for treatment.

Dr. Yossi Tam’s talk “Launching Breakthroughs in Human Health” is at the Stanford Research Park at 1400 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto at 6 p.m. this evening and and is free with an RSVP.