David: Some people have suggested that the shift in consciousness that a THC intoxication causes may in and of itself have some healing potential–by shifting one’s perspective of the illness, or possibly enhancing the placebo effect. What are your thoughts on this idea?
Raphael: People have been talking about this idea quite a lot. I have discussed it several times in connection with something slightly different. I thought that maybe the endocannabinoids have something to do with the conversion of objective perceptions into subjective effects. If I see something nice happening, I smile. So I convert an objective perception into a subjective feeling–happiness. But there has been no proof of that. We’ve been trying to find out whether we can find something and it is very difficult. The placebo effect is there. Nobody has tested this in animals, let’s say, because nobody does tests for placebo effects in animals. Nobody has really tested whether the placebo effect is not some kind of an endocannabinoid effect of a sort. It is due to the doctor being nice to you, and then it is due to the actual feeling of being injected with something which you know will help you, even though it doesn’t have anything active in it. But nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has shown that it has to do directly with endocannabinoids.
David: People have suggested that it enhances the placebo effect.
Raphael: Yeah, and this is what I’m saying. It seems quite plausible that it is so but we have certainly not done that and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has evaluated the relationship between a placebo effect and an endocannabinoid. Chances are that it’s there. It makes a lot of sense, but until it has been tested you can’t say.
David: What do you think should be done to help improve medical research in general?
Raphael: Quite a few things. Maybe the rules are becoming more and more rigid, and now with several compounds being taken off the market, and the FDA being under a lot of pressure, chances are that it will be even more difficult to develop new drugs because a drug has to have side-effects. There is no possibility of a drug not having a side-effect. Aspirin would not approved today. So chances are that we’ll see a slump in new compounds coming out. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid I’m not. It is not a question of money so much. I believe there is enough money. Well, there is never enough money, but there is a reasonable amount of money for medical research.
My group has had enough support for over thirty odd years, even more. We have been supported by the U.S. National Institute of Health (initially Mental Health) and then the National Institute of Drug Abuse for a long period of time. And although we are not an American group, obviously, they have decided it’s okay, we should be supported. I had to reapply for it, but I was supported for that period of time, and they have never pushed me into any direction. They have been very liberal. I’ve known most of the directors, and they are frequently very good scientists. The present director is an excellent scientist. Actually, she was not born in the U.S.; she’s Mexican and she’s an excellent scientist by any standard. So, in this respect, I can’t say that I’ve been pushed towards proving that it’s terribly bad, and that it will kill everyone. I think nothing of that sort. I’ve been doing my science and they’ve been, I hope, happy with it.
David: What are you currently working on?
Raphael: In collaboration with a group at N.I.H., we’re working on a new transmitter which binds to a recently discovered receptor. Whether this particular transmitter is a neurotransmitter, a transmitter of another sort, or only a vasodilator, it’s an important new compound. Actually there are quite a few other compounds in the brain which are closely related, so we’re working on that. We also have some new anticancer cannabinoid compounds which seem to be pretty good. The person working on this is Natalya Kogan, a Ph.D. student, who is exceptionally bright and deserves a lot of credit.
We recently published something about this research. These new compounds work on a an enzyme called topoisomerase, and these are compounds which are very close in action to some of the known anticancer compounds. But the known compounds of this sort cause damage to the heart, and with our compounds, so far, we have seen no such damage in animals. So hopefully this new type of cannabinoid will come out on the market. There is also a possibility that cannabinoids can be used to reduce temperature, and sometimes it’s important to reduce temperature because that prevents brain damage during a heat wave or heatstroke.
David: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you would like to add?
Raphael: We’ve been lucky to work in a field where originally there wasn’t anyone else, so we could work on our research slowly, without any major competition. Now it’s a field in which there is a large group of very good people working. In the states there are several excellent groups. There are also some excellent groups working on this in the U.K., Germany, Spain, and Italy. Though one always hears about competition between scientists, I haven’t seen it that much in this field. We are a large group that is working without really competing, and we are exchanging information all the time. So it’s a pleasure to be working in such a field. Maybe it has something to do with ananda.