So, when I was growing up in the 1970s, drugs were funny. Saturday Night Live skits showed people getting high, “druggie” comic acts like Cheech & Chong were popular enough to get their own movies, and stars doing cocaine were considered “glamorous”.
Fortunately, I think we’ve gotten way past those stereotypes, but it’s funny the things that can promote scientific inquiry sometimes.
One of the enduring characteristics of pot-smoking is an increase in appetite, commonly referred to as “the munchies”. When the cannabinoid receptors were discovered an isolated in the late 1980s, folks in research thought – hey if activating this system makes you hungry, then blocking it should decrease appetite and lead to weight loss.
Good hypothesis – and one that turns out to be correct. Over the past couple of years, French drug-maker Sanofi Aventis has looked to get approval for their drug Acomplia (which blocks the cannabinoid pathways) which does a pretty good job inducing weight loss.
But it seems to me that people don’t smoke pot to get hungry, they smoke it to get happy. And it turns out that in addition to blocking the “hungry” effects of the mechanism, Acomplia also blocks the “happy” parts as well – the main side effects are depression and even thoughts of suicide. Because of these effects, the FDA denied approval of Acomplia in the US, though the EU had approved it. (The EU label has more warnings than a flame-thrower in a gunpowder factory…)
Today, there was more bad news for Acomplia as the UK’s version of the FDA said that since 2006 there had been 5 deaths in the UK associated with Acomplia use (one to suicide) and hundreds of other adverse-events. It will be interesting to see if the drug remains on the market there and I imagine SA can scrap their already slim hopes of getting it approved here (though they are working hard to argue that the drug is safe “enough”). I’m sure there is a ton of ongoing work to see if it’s possible to separate the feeding from mood effects from each other.
I guess my points are that every drug ever sold has a risk-benefit balance and every product is going to have some side effect profile. Our job (and that of the medical community) is to decide whether the life-saving and quality-of-life-saving benefits outweigh the downside. As for this drug?? For me, and my loved ones, I would rather keep those few extra pounds — or, God forbid, eat better and exercise more.
(Interesting side note: I could not find Acomplia listed under SA's product listing on their webiste…)