Thujone exhibits low affinity for cannabinoid receptors

~ but fails to evoke cannabimimetic responses ~

by J.P. Meschler, A.C. Howlett Published in Pharmacol Biochem Behav., March 1999

Absinthe, an abused spirit in the early 1900s, has been speculated to activate the receptors responsible for marijuana intoxication (the CB1 cannabinoid receptor) (Nature 253:365-356; 1975). To test this hypothesis, we investigated oil of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) the active plant product found in absinthe, and thujone, the active compound found in oil of wormwood. Radioligand receptor binding assays employing membrane preparations from rat brains containing CB1 cannabinoid receptors, and human tonsils containing CB2 receptors, demonstrated that thujone displaced [3H]CP55940, a cannabinoid agonist, only at concentrations above 10 microM. HPLC analysis of oil of wormwood revealed that only the fractions having mobility close to thujone displaced [3H]CP55940 from the CB1 cannabinoid receptor. [35S]GTPgammaS binding assays revealed that thujone failed to stimulate G-proteins even at 0.1 mM. Thujone failed to inhibit forskolin-stimulated adenylate cyclase activity in N18TG2 membranes at 1 mM. Rats administered thujone exhibited different behavioral characteristics compared with rats administered a potent cannabinoid agonist, levonantradol. Therefore, the hypothesis that activation of cannabinoid receptors is responsible for the intoxicating effects of thujone is not supported by the present data.

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