A Search for Properties Which Produce Discrimination Between Cannabinoid Psychoactivity and Analgesic Activity
One long-range goal of our work has been the design of cannabinoid analgesics with reduced psychopharmacological liability. We review here the progress we have made toward this goal. When we began our work on the cannabinoids, no cannabinoid analgesic had been reported that did not also possess significant psychoactivity. We approached the cannabinoid problem by calculating molecular reactivity characteristics (MRCS) of template molecules for each activity: (−)-trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) for psychoactivity, and (−)-9-nor-9-betahydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (9-nor-9β-OHHHC) for analgesic activity. We then compared the MRCs of each template with the MRCS of a carefully chosen set of other cannabinoids (both active and inactive). Our focus in the calculation of MRCS was on accessible conformations of each subject molecule and on the molecular electrostatic potential generated in key planes by each accessible conformer. Our working hypothesis concerning the molecular basis of psychopharmacological activity in the cannabinoids was that activity is conferred by the set of molecular properties generated (1) by the orientation of the lone pairs of electrons of the phenyl group hydroxyl oxygen and (2) by the orientation of the carbocyclic ring and its C–9 substituent relative to this oxygen. Our working hypothesis concerning the molecular basis of cannabinoid analgesic activity was that activity is conferred by the set of molecular properties generated by the presence and relative location of two negative potential regions in the top half of the cannabinoid analgesic molecule. Our work thus far has revealed important steric and electronic features of the cannabinoids that may be used to enhance discrimination. We have shown that a simple structural feature, a C–9 substituent protruding into the α face of the molecule, can abolish or significantly diminish psychoactivity. We have also demonstrated that a free phenol group is not an absolute requirement for activity. Instead, we have found that compounds that do not possess free phenolic hydrogens, but that do maintain the orientation of the lone pairs of electrons of the “phenolic” oxygen toward the carbocyclic ring, exhibit selectivity toward analgesia.