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Virtual Marijuana Being Grown at KSU

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In the Chemistry lab wing of the Science Building, KSU Chemistry
Professor, Dr. Patricia Reggio, is growing "marijuana" for research on the
plant. She never makes any contact with an actual plant, however. Reggio's
work is purely computational, and the only marijuana she ever sees is
"virtual marijuana," seen on the screen of the graphics computers in her

"Theoretical work is an important part of medical and pharmaceutical
research," Dr. Leon Combs, the KSU chemistry chair, said. "All drug
companies have a theory division. The theoretical work comes before drugs
are developed."

Reggio has had a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse since

"It's called The Molecular Determinants for Cannabinoid Activity," Reggio
said, "It's a grant for research to find out how drugs act on the
molecular level."

Reggio's research is centered on what are called cannabinoid receptors.
These are the areas where THC, the active drug in marijuana, binds in the

"We want to know what turns these receptors on and off, and how molecules
like THC actually bind to receptors," Reggio said. "This can allow for the
design of drugs that bind to the same receptors as THC."

According to Reggio, these new drugs will have the opposite effects of
THC, as well as various applications, including appetite suppression and
memory enhancement.

The computational models designed by Reggio and her research team are sent
to a research institute in North Carolina. This institute is where
research on the actual marijuana plant is performed and compounds based on
THC are designed. The compounds are then shipped to various locations to
be evaluated.

KSU is not among those locations.

"A license is required to handle controlled substances," Reggio said.
"Anything that binds to a cannabinoid receptor is considered a controlled

"Actual drug research is something we would never do," Combs said. "You
need a special license. We don't have the facilities, and there is nobody
in the department with that kind of expertise."

The license needed is issued by the federal Drug Enforcement
Administration. Only the person doing the research would be allowed to
handle the substance. It would be required to be kept in a locked
refrigerator and detailed logs would need to be kept.

"The logs would be audited by the DEA," Reggio said. "You would lose your
license if more was gone than what was supposed to."

In addition to the legal liabilities involved in experimental drug
research, KSU does not have the space.

"We would need to put an addition onto the building to get more research
space," Reggio said. "There aren't enough labs."

"There is a tremendous undertaking to get approval for that kind of
research," Combs said. "I don't see KSU ever doing that."

Author: Leigh Carfi, Staff Writer
Source: The Sentinel
Contact: sentinel@pigseye.kennesaw.edu
Website: The Sentinel – Kennesaw State University Student Newspaper
Pubdate: Wednesday, November 12, 2003