Can popping a pill curb all your cravings?
By Diane Martindale IT STARTED with a spliff. Back in the 1960s, psychologists studying the effects of cannabis on short-term memory noticed that the subjects couldn’t keep their hands off the free marshmallows. What the researchers were seeing was confirmation of a well-known side effect of smoking cannabis – intense hunger pangs known as the munchies. Fast-forward 40 years, and scientists are talking about the munchies again, albeit in a rather different way. Early next year, if everything goes to plan, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis will start selling a drug designed to induce the “anti-munchies”. Rimonabant taps into the same brain circuits as cannabis, but instead of turning them on, it turns them off. If what has been made public from the clinical trials is anything to go by, rimonabant has almost miraculous powers, helping people to control their appetites, shrink their waistlines and banish many of the metabolic problems associated with being too fat. And that’s not all. Rimonabant has also been successfully tested as an aid to quitting smoking and might even be useful in treating alcoholism and other addictions. In a world in which obesity, smoking and drug abuse are three of the biggest causes of premature death, that’s a pretty impressive profile. No wonder many industry analysts are backing it to become the first blockbuster drug of the 21st century. But while many consider rimonabant a major breakthrough, some are yet to be convinced. They agree that the available results look promising, but point out that there has been only one peer-reviewed article from the clinical trials. And although the drug’s reported side effects are minor,