‘Magic Mushroom’ Enzyme Mystery Solved

Researchers unravel the biosynthesis of the psychoactive drug psilocybin, making the large-scale production a possibility…

The euphoria and hallucinations induced from eating Psilocybe “magic mushrooms” have earned the fungi a cult following. Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann isolated and determined the structure of psilocybin, the main ingredient in mushrooms that leads to the psychedelic effects, nearly 60 years ago. That discovery and subsequent mind-altering experiments by Harvard University psychologist Timothy F. Leary have left scientists longing to develop a large-scale synthesis of the compound for medical uses, which include treating anxiety and depression in terminal cancer patients and treating nicotine addiction. Yet no one has been able to unravel the enzymatic pathway the mushrooms use to make psilocybin, until now.

During their study, Hoffmeister and co-workers sequenced the genomes of two mushroom species to identify the genes that govern the fungal enzymatic production of psilocybin. They further used engineered bacteria and fungi to confirm the gene activity and exact order of synthetic steps. This process includes a newly discovered enzyme that decarboxylates tryptophan, an enzyme that adds a hydroxyl group, an enzyme that catalyzes phosphorylation, and an enzyme that mediates two sequential amine methylation steps. With that knowledge in hand, the team designed a one-pot reaction using three of the enzymes to prepare psilocybin from 4-hydroxy-L-tryptophan.

“The publication by Hoffmeister and colleagues highlights a terrific example of genomics-based biocatalyst-pathway discovery,” adds natural products researcher Jon S. Thorson of the University of Kentucky. “While psilocybin biosynthesis derives from a series of fairly simple chemical transformations, this new study identifies the contributing genes and biocatalysts for the first time and, importantly, provides strong evidence to support a revision of the order of the key steps proposed more than five decades ago. This work clearly sets the stage for bioengineered psilocybin production and/or for analogs that may serve as compelling alternatives to existing synthetic strategies.”

C&En News

Legal weed: An accidental solution to the opioid crisis?

It’s hard to go a day in Canada without hearing about at least one of two types of drugs – but for vastly different reasons. One class of drug — opioids — kills four people a day in British Columbia. The other — cannabis — will be legal for adult purchase and consumption by this time next year.

The opioid overdose epidemic is Canada’s gravest public health crisis since the emergence of HIV in the 1980s. With its roots in the over-prescription of high-potency painkillers, sparked by the contamination of the illicit drug supply with fentanyl and related drugs, the crisis has reached across demographic divides.

Could cannabis legalization be a part of this solution? Increasingly, this is what the latest scientific research indicates.

Fatal overdoses

The opioid crisis is a product of the medical system’s over-reliance on opioids for pain relief. Almost one in five Canadians live with some form of chronic pain. Twenty years ago, pharmaceutical companies began to develop slow-release formulations of opioids (e.g. OxyContin) and marketed them as safe and effective medications for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain.

Continue Reading at The Conversation

Is Marijuana Worse Than Tobacco For Cardiovascular Health?

If you consume cannabis, you are three times more likely to die from high blood pressure than those who abstain, according to a shocking new study. What does this mean to your cardiovascular health?

The study, published on Tuesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, found:

“Compared with subjects who had never used marijuana, the results revealed that marijuana users were 3.42 times more likely to die from high blood pressure. For each year of marijuana use, the risk of death from hypertension increased by 1.04 times.”

“We found higher estimated cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use than cigarette smoking,” said study author Barbara A. Yankey from Georgia State University. “This indicates that marijuana use may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking.”

The study’s methodology has been questioned by other cannabis researchers. One significant shortcoming in the study is that the researchers did not control for diet and exercise as a factor in cardiovascular risk. It also did not assess whether test subjects ate, vaporized or smoked cannabis.

Read the full article at The Fresh Toast

Are Pain Management Devices An Alternative to Opioids?

“People are afraid of opioids right now. There’s a stigma. Patients don’t want to be on opioids,” Michael Leong, a pain specialist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, told Technology Review. Using pain relief devices can reportedly drastically reduce or eliminate a patient’s need for pain medication, particularly powerful opioids.

Terri Bryant was on fentanyl for her back pain until she took part in a clinical trial of a spinal cord stimulator that was implanted under her skin at the base of her spine. After getting the implant her pain decreased almost immediately and she was able to stop taking fentanyl, which was a relief to her.

The medical community is now looking to develop devices that provide the same sort of relief without needing to be surgically implanted. One such device, Neuro-Stim System Bridge, is placed behind a patient’s ear and gives off electrical pulses to certain areas of the brain.

The device has proved very effective for helping people overcome the pain of withdrawing from opioids and is now used in 30 states to support detox. Patients wear the bridge for the first five days after they stop taking opioids in order to get them through the toughest part of withdrawing.

Yet not everyone is convinced that pain management devices are the answer to America’s chronic pain problem. Edward Michna, a pain management specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said that we need more long-term research into their effectiveness.

The Fix

Study: Magic mushrooms May Be Among The Safest Illicit Drugs

A GLOBAL study has assessed the health dangers of all illicit drugs, revealing the substances that carry the most – and least – risk.

The study, which canvassed 120,000 people worldwide, found 79.3 per cent of its sample had taken drugs in their lives. Some 37 per cent of respondents had used in the prior month.

By far the most heavily used illegal drug was cannabis, with a 77.8 per cent take-up rate. While the report highlights growing issues caused by newer and purer varieties of drugs, it says more traditional drugs are still a serious cause for concern.

But the Global Drug Survey 2017 study says that if you insist on using illicit substances, perhaps magic mushrooms was the best pick of a bad bunch.

Magic mushrooms came in as the ninth most heavily used illicit drug, with 29.4 per cent of respondents saying it was their drug of choice. Magic mushrooms directly affect serotonin receptors in the brain. Other drugs also stimulate many others. And taking more ‘shrooms doesn’t increase a high — which makes them less addictive.

This is a very real risk as many magic mushroom users tend to scour fields and reserves for varieties growing naturally. The alternative — growing them yourself — is illegal. The Global Drug Survey is administered by an independent research company based in London.

News.com

Can Weed Make You a Better Athlete?

Cannabis is the perfect medicine for athletes,” says retired NFL offensive lineman Eben Britton over the phone, stating matter-of-factly what’s still, generally, considered taboo. (In the world of modern cannabis advocacy, you’re never talking about “weed,” “pot,” “marijuana,” or “cannabis”.)

That hypothesis is the impetus behind Athletes For Care, a new nonprofit of which Britton—alongside 26 other athletes from the NFL, NBA, NHL, and UFC—is a founding member. The organization is dedicated to promoting a holistic, alternative approach to athlete wellness, both for those still playing and retirees. Cannabis is but one part of the wellness package—albeit an important one.

Many of the athletes involved, including former NFL players Eugene Monroe and Nate Jackson, already have a history of cannabis advocacy. The goal of Athletes For Care is to allow them to come together and create what Britton calls a “safe space” for athletes interested in alternative medicine, as well as those simply looking for support after leaving the infrastructure of professional sports.

Read the full article at Bleacher Report

Maine Panel Mulls Doubling 10% Tax on Cannabis

In November, legalization of recreational marijuana was approved. Possession of recreational marijuana became legal this year, while the Legislature pushed back the legalization until at least February.

The referendum included licensing fees as well as a 10 percent tax on sales by retail marijuana stores and social clubs.

“I think we’ll definitely be increasing (the tax) to some level,” said Democratic Rep. Teresa Pierce, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint marijuana legalization implementation committee.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana dispensaries and advocacy groups so far this year have reported spending more than $265,000 on lobbyists to sway officials. Legalize Maine has reported spending $32,000, while Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana has reported spending nearly $85,000.

The regulations will govern issues from the use of pesticides to grow for personal consumption, and the Legislature faces further votes on a bill to set up a system of labs to test marijuana. Pierce said that overall, the idea is to learn from states like Colorado.

Read the full article at Leafly

Opioid Epidemic Spreading To Newborns

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the number of babies dependent on opioids nearly doubled from 2010 to 2015.

Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo is one of many hospitals across Colorado seeing a big spike in babies dependent on drugs.

The hospital treated 32 infants in 2015 and saw 37 babies exposed to opiates in 2016. That’s up from just one or two a year before 2011.

Most of the drug-dependent babies the hospital sees are addicted to heroin. Nationwide, the number of newborns addicted to opioids is up 400 percent since 2000.

Health officials say cuddling helps the babies through some of the most difficult days as newborns.

“With cuddling, you get control of some of those minor symptoms of withdrawal and it’s actually seen as our first line of medical treatment,” said Camille Hodapp, a nurse practitioner at Parkview Medical Center.

Read more at Fox 31

Concentrate Shelf Life: How Long Does Cannabis Oil Last?

Finding a long-lost cannabis concentrate is a bittersweet moment. Your discovered concentrate was left stranded in a pair of jeans that had been stuffed in the far reaches of your dresser, untouched since that last camping trip.

The good news: no mold. The bad news: it doesn’t look like the translucent and golden “shatter” you once had. What’s before you now looks like a collection of off-yellow sugar crystals. Has this hash oil gone past its shelf life? Can you still enjoy it?

While some extracts and infusions can experience quality degradation in a very short time span, others may stay fresh and usable indefinitely.

The Impact of Extraction Method on Concentrates

“Gold in, gold out; Garbage in, garbage out.” There’s a direct correlation between the quality of the starting material and what remains post-extraction. Inferior products containing compromised cannabinoid profiles will, in every case, result in an inferior extract.

Continue Reading at Leafly

Opioid Epidemic Still a Top Priority This Summer

The announcements have come from three major government agencies, and reactions have come from a number of well-known health-related organizations.

“Drug overdose, driven largely by overdose related to the use of opioids, is now the leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. The ongoing opioid crisis lies at the intersection of two public health challenges: reducing the burden of suffering from pain, and containing the rising toll of the harms that can arise from the use of opioid medications,” stated the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in their comprehensive report released last week.

Fewer prescriptions but more deaths

In its latest Vital Signs report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a number of opioids prescribed in the United States peaked in 2010 and have decreased every year through 2015.

“The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. is still too high, with too many opioid prescriptions for too many days at too high a dosage,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC in a press statement.

Read more at Healthline News

Scientists Get Religious Leaders High On Magic Mushroom Compound

Commentary: A revolutionary experiment involves seeing whether drugs heighten the religious experience.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are taking a more celestial look at chemically enhanced spiritual uplift.

As the Guardian reports, they’ve brought together a few rabbis, some Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, and a Zen Buddhist to see if doses of psilocybin might enhance their religious fervor.

One of the scientists involved in the study, Dr. William Richards, told the Guardian: “With psilocybin, these profound mystical experiences are quite common. It seemed like a no-brainer that they might be of interest, if not valuable, to clergy.”

How much more productive — or even happier — might we be if, having woken up in a bad mood, we then don a strange headset or patch that suddenly makes us feel at one with the world?

Read the full article at CNET

Cannabis Oil Touted As New Acne Cure

Botanix yesterday reported to the Australian Securities Exchange its first safety study on humans, the West Australian reported.

The second phase of clinical trials of the treatment will start within months according to Botanix executive director Matthew Callahan.

“Collectively, our findings suggest that, due to the combined lipostatic, antiproliferative and anti-inflammatory effects, CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris,” the study found.

The most common adverse effect was skin dryness according to the first trials.

Newshub

New ‘Cannabis Oil’ Named After Billy Caldwell

A CO Tyrone boy who became the first person to be prescribed medical cannabis on the NHS is to be the face of a new brand of oil derived from the marijuana plant.

Billy Caldwell (11), from Castlederg, made history earlier this year he was prescribed oil containing CBD – an extract from cannabis – to help with life-threatening epilepsy that caused him to suffer up to 100 seizures a day.

Now a medical cannabis firm, 710 Holdings MME, is launching ‘Billy’s Bud’ CBD oil, a product inspired by Billy’s bravery.

His mother Charlotte told the Irish News that she hoped the oil would help other families benefit from medical cannabis.

“We are overwhelmed with this, and the oil will be available all over the US, Ireland, the UK, and Europe,” she said.

The Irish News

4 Marijuana Stocks Looking to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

The pharmaceutical and biotech industry is tasked with one purpose: to improve the quality of life for people. But, what if that task were being compromised by the medicines they’re creating?

In terms of their clinical results, opioids have shown demonstrably positive impacts on reducing pain associated with a chronic disease, and they are a staple therapy for certain diseases. In 2012, some 259 million prescriptions were written for prescription opioids, which would be enough to ensure that every adult in the U.S. received their own bottle.

Opioids are a highly addictive therapy that, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, led to 20,101 overdose-related deaths in 2015.

In fact, the dangers of opioid addiction and overdose-related death have become such a reality that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently requested Endo International take Opana ER, an opioid therapy, off the market.

Continue reading at The Motley Fool

Greece Legalizes Marijuana for Medical Purposes

Greece has become the latest European country to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said:
“From now on, the country is turning its page, as Greece is now included in countries where the delivery of medical cannabis to patients in need is legal.” Mr. Tsipras said at a press conference, as reported by the Greek Government Gazette.

The Prime Minister also said cannabis would be downgraded from a Table A drug – equivalent to class A in the UK – to a Table B drug, in which category are other drugs like methadone and opium with approved medical values, as reported by Dope Magazine.

Greece is the sixth EU country to take this action after the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain have already legalised the drug for medical use.

It is yet to be seen whether Greece will go further to allow full-scale cannabis legislation, for recreational use as well as medical, joining Portugal, the only other European country to do so.

Independent UK

Wa Declare Poppy-Free Zone

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) claimed opium poppy fields have now been completely eradicated from the southern area of the Wa Self-Administered Division bordering Thailand, as it incinerated seized drugs to mark the UN’s international day against drug abuse on Monday.

According to the commander, a total of 2.7 million methamphetamine tablets, four kilograms of heroin, and 14 kilograms of raw opium were seized by the UWSA anti-narcotics squad between January 2014 and June 2017. Thirty drug dealers and 60 drug users were arrested over the same time period by the narcotics squad.

UWSA began controlling opium poppy growing in 1996 and adopted policies to combat the production of drugs in 2005.

In 2000, UWSA relocated residents living in the southern part of Wa Self-Administered Division to the northern part, and also relocated those from northern part to southern part to grow substitute crops, said the commander.

Click here for more info: The Irrawaddy

ADHS: More Women Using Medical Marijuana to Treat Pain

The number of women using medical marijuana to treat their pain is up drastically over the past five years, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The report says 25 percent of women in 2012 used medical marijuana compared to more than 37 percent as of May of this year.

Dr. Burns, the Director of the Southwest Medical Evaluation Center, says many people have a hard time getting over the stigma of using marijuana to treat medical ailments, especially women.

“People have a hard time jumping over the blurred line and looking at the medical and really looking at it through a filter or medical standpoint, a therapeutic standpoint,” Dr. Burns said.

But now, more and more women are using medical marijuana to treat their issues.

Fox10Phoenix

Mexico Remains No. 3 Opium Poppy Producer

With 26,100 hectares dedicated to opium poppies, Mexico continues to be the third largest producer of the plant from which heroin is made, says the 2017 report of the UNODC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The estimated area of poppy plantations in Mexico was based on data from 2014 and 2015 and while relatively small there has been a marked upward trend.

In 2005, just 3,300 hectares of land were used to grow opium poppies in Mexico, but four years later the figure was up to 19,500 hectares.

By 2012, a thousand hectares were added to the cultivation of opium poppy, a source of heroin and morphine.

The amount of heroin confiscated has increased over the years as well, from 362 kilograms in 2011 to 546 in 2015.

Mexico Daily News

More US Women Hospitalized for Opioid Abuse

Opioid-related hospitalisations among women in the United States increased far faster than among men between 2005 and 2014, a federal government report says.

Among women, hospitalisations involving opioid painkillers or heroin rose 75 percent, compared to 55 percent among men, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The surge among women during that 10-year period meant that by 2014 males and females were being hospitalised at a similar rate — about 225 hospitalisations per 100,000 people.

In 2014, hospitalisation rates among women were highest in West Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts, exceeding 350 per 100,000 people. Among men, the highest rates were in the District of Columbia, New York and Maryland, topping 440 hospitalisations per 100,000.

Misuse of potent painkillers such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicoprofen (hydrocodone/ibuprofen) sends 1,000 Americans to emergency rooms each day. Opioid-related overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, according to federal statistics.

WebMD

Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Pollinator week comin’ up

Pollinator week is June 19-25 2017. The first “National Pollinator Week” was celebrated 10 years ago. How very important pollinators are. 

In the wild, cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) prefer to live in the moist understory of the rainforests in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. The flowers sprout straight from the trunk and lower branches to form cacao pods, courtesy of midge pollination. The National Park Service works with “sister parks” in South America that are looking into the problem of disappearing chocolate midges.

The “lungs of the planet” are being cleared and turned into monoculture farms that support little wildlife. In 2015, United Cacao cleared over five thousand acres of pristine rainforest in Peru to make way for their cacao plantation. Efforts are now being directed toward locating small cacao farms at the edge or within the rainforest ecosystems. How much do you like your chocolate?

Continue Reading at The Shawnee News-Star