Researchers at Artelo Biosciences in California are developing a lab-grown, synthetic cannabis molecule that includes THC without the intoxicating effects, but is still able to induce hunger in users.
The cannabinoid, called ART27.13, is being developed for the treatment of wasting syndrome which affects people with HIV and cachexia, a cancer-related condition which causes appetite, muscle and weight loss. The drug is currently being studied in the UK.
Artelo Biosciences CEO Greg Gorgas told Business Insider Australia he hopes the results pave the way for other nutrition-related maladies.
He added: “We owe a debt of gratitude to users of cannabis who have for years taught us the ingestion of cannabis can lead to a stimulation of appetite.”
ART27.13 is currently being tested in a small randomised controlled trial, where 50 participants swallow a capsule with 150 micrograms of the drug for 90 days, while researchers monitor their lean body mass, weight gain, progress and general quality of life.
Gorgas said they will also do trials with a 250 and a 400 microgram dose, to “achieve a balance between safety and efficacy”.
ART27.13 works by targeting endocannabinoid receptors in the stomach, intestines and oesophageal tract and, according to Gorgas, is designed to fix these diet deficiencies.
The endocannabinoid system includes receptors throughout the human body and explains how cannabis reacts with human physiology. When THC interacts with the receptors in the digestive system, it signals a hunger response while having analgesic properties.
The researchers at Artelo harnessed that response, while removing the psychoactive component of THC that impacts brain function, causing hunger without intoxicating effects.
Preliminary data also shows the lab-grown cannabinoid tells insulin receptors to produce more of the hormone, which can help patients better store fat.