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Biochem Pharmacol. 2012 Apr 1;83(7):952-61. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2012.01.004. Epub 2012 Jan 18.

Monohydroxylated metabolites of the K2 synthetic cannabinoid JWH-073 retain intermediate to high cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1R) affinity and exhibit neutral antagonist to partial agonist activity.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA.


K2 and several similar purported "incense products" spiked with synthetic cannabinoids are abused as cannabis substitutes. We hypothesized that metabolism of JWH-073, a prevalent cannabinoid found in K2, contributes to toxicity associated with K2 use. Competition receptor binding studies and G-protein activation assays, both performed by employing mouse brain homogenates, were used to determine the affinity and intrinsic activity, respectively, of potential monohydroxylated (M1, M3-M5) and monocarboxylated (M6) metabolites at cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1Rs). Surprisingly, M1, M4 and M5 retain nanomolar affinity for CB1Rs, while M3 displays micromolar affinity and M6 does not bind to CB1Rs. JWH-073 displays equivalent efficacy to that of the CB1R full agonist CP-55,940, while M1, M3, and M5 act as CB1R partial agonists, and M4 shows little or no intrinsic activity. Further in vitro investigation by Schild analysis revealed that M4 acts as a competitive neutral CB1R antagonist (K(b)∼40nM). In agreement with in vitro studies, M4 also demonstrates CB1R antagonism in vivo by blunting cannabinoid-induced hypothermia in mice. Interestingly, M4 does not block agonist-mediated responses of other measures in the cannabinoid tetrad (e.g., locomotor suppression, catalepsy or analgesia). Finally, also as predicted by in vitro results, M1 exhibits agonist activity in vivo by inducing significant hypothermia and suppression of locomotor activity in mice. In conclusion, the present study indicates that further work examining the physiological effects of synthetic cannabinoid metabolism is warranted. Such a complex mix of metabolically produced CB1R ligands may contribute to the adverse effect profile of JWH-073-containing products.

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