Marijuana-based Drugs: Innovative Therapeutics or Designer Drugs of Abuse?

  1. Kathryn A. Seely1,
  2. Paul L. Prather1,
  3. Laura P. James2 and
  4. Jeffery H. Moran1,3
  1. 1 Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR 72205
  2. 2 Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Little Rock, AR 72202
  3. 3 Arkansas Department of Health, Public Health Laboratory, Little Rock, AR 72205


The principal psychoactive component of marijuana, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), activates CB1 cannabinoid receptors (CB1Rs). Unfortunately, pharmacological research into the design of effective THC analogs has been hampered by psychiatric side effects. THC-based drug design of a less academic nature, however, has led to the marketing of “synthetic marijuana,” labeled as K2 or “Spice,” among other terms, which elicits psychotropic actions via CB1R activation. Because of structural dissimilarity to THC, the active ingredients of K2/Spice preparations are widely unregulated. The K2/Spice “phenomenon” provides a context for considering whether marijuana-based drugs will truly provide innovative therapeutics or merely perpetuate drug abuse.

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