Medicinal cannabis: is Δ9–tetrahydrocannabinol necessary for all its effects?

J. D. Wilkinson, B. J. Whalley, D. Baker, G. Pryce, A. Constanti, S. Gibbons, E. M. Williamson

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Cannabis is under clinical investigation to assess its potential for medicinal use, but the question arises as to whether there is any advantage in using cannabis extracts compared with isolated Δ9‐trans‐tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9THC), the major psychoactive component. We have compared the effect of a standardized cannabis extract (SCE) with pure Δ9THC, at matched concentrations of Δ9THC, and also with a Δ9THC‐free extract (Δ9THC‐free SCE), using two cannabinoid‐sensitive models, a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS), and an in‐vitro rat brain slice model of epilepsy. Whilst SCE inhibited spasticity in the mouse model of MS to a comparable level, it caused a more rapid onset of muscle relaxation, and a reduction in the time to maximum effect compared with Δ9THC alone. The Δ9THC‐free extract or cannabidiol (CBD) caused no inhibition of spasticity. However, in the in‐vitro epilepsy model, in which sustained epileptiform seizures were induced by the muscarinic receptor agonist oxotremorine‐M in immature rat piriform cortical brain slices, SCE was a more potent and again more rapidly‐acting anticonvulsant than isolated Δ9THC, but in this model, the Δ9THC‐free extract also exhibited anticonvulsant activity. Cannabidiol did not inhibit seizures, nor did it modulate the activity of Δ9THC in this model. Therefore, as far as some actions of cannabis were concerned (e.g. anti‐spasticity), Δ9THC was the active constituent, which might be modified by the presence of other components. However, for other effects (e.g. anticonvulsant properties) Δ9THC, although active, might not be necessary for the observed effect. Above all, these results demonstrated that not all of the therapeutic actions of cannabis herb might be due to the Δ9THC content.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1687-1694
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003

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