The birth of Taranabant, the so-called “anti-marijuana” drug, was as inevitable as the atomic bomb: First, a problem presented itself (on the one hand, the Nazis; on the other, obesity). Then, scientists discovered a revolutionary way to reverse a natural phenomena (atomic fission/cannabinoid receptor blockage). The desired effect was achieved (creation of a powerful weapon to deter our enemies/weight loss). And, finally, unfortunate side effects resulted (ability to annihilate all life on the planet/anti-pot symptoms). In both cases, humans have tampered with forces of nature probably better left untampered with, and the outlook is grave.
To understand Taranabant, you must also understand Rimonobant, the first of the reverse-cannabis drugs. Rimonobant (aka Acomplia, Riobant, Slimona, Rimoslim and Zimulti), developed by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, has been available in the U.K. as a remedy for extreme obesity since July 2006 and in 30 other countries since last year.
Both Rimonobant and Taranabant are antagonists that block the brain's cannabinoid receptors. The intended effect is to suppress appetite.
The creation of these drugs is based on reversing the effects of cannibanoid receptor stimulators; the two types of stimulators are the brain's own neurotransmitters and the psychoactive drug cannabis. The former gives you an appetite, the latter an appetite for Ritz Bits and Ding Dongs.
Although Rimonobant is available internationally, it was not approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because some participants in the trials had increased depression and thoughts of suicide. Some investors are suing Sanofi-Aventis because the company allegedly released information downplaying these side effects.
Taranabant is pharmaceutical giant Merck's alternative to Rimonobant. It's Merck's attempt to create a cannabinoid blocker that will suppress appetite without making people want to kill themselves. Given FDA approval, Merck could cash in big-time on America's huge diet-obsession market. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight or obese.
Since releasing results of Phase 2 of the Taranabant trials in the journal Cell Metabolism last month, Merck's stock has shot up, and Merck expects to file for marketing approval of Taranabant by the end of this year.
As far as curbing appetite, it's pretty clear the stuff works. “It suppresses food intake and increases your metabolism,” said Dr. Steven Heymsfield, an obesity scientist for Merck who was interviewed in Health Day News.
Researchers discovered that people who took the drug ate 20 percent fewer calories than those who were given a placebo, and lost about 11 pounds in 12 weeks. Trial participants blogging at fatnews.com have praised the drug's ability to curb their “abnormal” cravings for food.
But, as you might expect, not only does blocking cannabinoid receptors create the opposite effect of marijuana on the appetite, the trials show that it delivers other contra-marijuana effects as well. While marijuana can induce euphoria, we've already learned that these “bant” drugs can make you depressed. In the Taranabant trials, 30 percent of participants experienced depression and anxiety. Other non-marijuana-like effects included vomiting and irritability.
This is why Taranabant is so dangerous.
Marijuana, like any substance—from coffee to emoticons—can be abused.
But moderate, occasional use of marijuana is a good thing. As you know, if you're ill, it can increase your appetite or suppress nausea and pain. Marijuana relaxes you, or “mellows you out,” as we used to say in the early 2000s. It can help you get some sleep. Marijuana tends to allow you to giggle and ponder the meanings of things. It gives you a mild but significant opportunity to question authority and even reality. It increases your sensitivity to the pleasures of music, art, nature and sex. In moderation, there is nothing wrong with marijuana other than that it is stuck with this ridiculous “Schedule I” illegal-substance status, a categorization almost nobody agrees with anymore.
What we need, then, are more people to experience the effects of cannabinoid receptor stimulation, not blockage.
Consider the potential nightmare we face: America is overweight and tends to solve its problems with prescription medication. Even the most dubious weight-loss snake oils tend to sell like reduced-calorie hot cakes. If Taranabant becomes available, millions of Americans might lose weight but then start acting like Mitt Romney or Victorya from Project Runway or any other person who clearly needs a bong hit.
The Invasion of the Cannabinoid Snatchers will fill the nation with a bunch of irritable, uptight, depressive, vomiting creeps with puffed-up egos for having suddenly become “big losers.”
Please understand, I'm not making light of obesity. It's a serious problem. But subjecting Americans to the opposite effects of what marijuana does to us is just not the right direction for this country. There are plenty of other obesity treatments out there that won't turn you into an asshole. Please, overweight friends, try shedding your excess fat another way. The risks associated with this approach seem too great.
I will concede that if Merck thinks it can eventually isolate the appetite effect from the myriad other effects of cannabinoid blocking, we could perhaps tolerate continued research on cannabinoid blockers, but Merck should quit rushing this shit to market. It's tampering with the forces of nature.
That's right—nature! Marijuana is a plant that was put here naturally for us to enjoy and learn from. Its effects when used correctly are liberating and almost entirely positive. To engineer the opposite of these effects into pill form is to create tiny cellular atom bombs for the brain. If these little bombs detonate in the heads of two-thirds of Americans, our country will likely be transformed into millions of thin grinches craving a Jeb Bush presidency instead of Doritos. We must pressure Merck to either fix Taranabant or stop making it. The very fate of our culture may depend on it.