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July 2, 2007
Volume 85, Number 27
p. 80

Viagra For Hamsters


Newscripts was doubly surprised to learn that VIAGRA can ward off the effects of jet lag in hamsters.

According to Diego Golombek and coworkers at Quilmes National University, in Argentina, hamsters treated with small amounts of sildenafil adjust more quickly to laboratory simulations of a six-hour eastbound time shift. Westbound time changes were unaffected (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0703388104).

Golombek attributes the phenomenon to an increase in cyclic guanosine monophosphate in the body, noting that the compound can temporarily speed up the brain's internal body clock.

What about the, um, side effects? The effective jet-lag-adjusting dose is much lower than what's in the "little blue pill."

Crack For Cats

Inspired by a C&EN article about CATNIP and the feline-frenzying herb's active ingredient nepetalactone (Aug. 1, 2005, page 39), reader Dylan Stiles developed an extraction of the compound with ordinary household items.

Dylan Stiles
Nepetalactone: Blissed-out kitty.

Using a large pot with a glass lid, a vegetable steamer, a glass cup, and "lots of ice" as an improvised distillation apparatus, Stiles steam-extracted the nepetalactone from the catnip. He suggests would-be catnip cookers do this part of the experiment outside. "The catnip vapors don't smell bad; in fact, it's a pleasant minty smell, but it's pretty strong and is likely to linger for a while," Stiles observes.

He also demonstrates how to do organic extraction using a Nalgene bottle (which he notes must be sacrificed), toluene (from the paint-thinner section of the hardware store), and a turkey baster. After a little purification, drying, and filtering, he gets 143 mg of nepetalactone per pound of catnip.

But is the extract safe for Fluffy? "Yes, it is safe to use this extract on cats. I have looked into it, and there are a number of studies—very interesting in their own right—using pure nepetalactone on cats in experiments trying to figure out why it causes them to go bonkers," Stiles says. "You would have to force-feed your average 5-kg cat about 8 g in order to cause it any harm. So as long as you are reasonable with the extract, it should pose no harm."

Readers can find Stiles's photodocumentary of the experiment on under the title "DIY Kitty Crack."

Marijuana For Mice

Cannabinoids—the active compounds in marijuana— can relieve mice from the itchiness of allergic skin reactions (Science 2007, 316, 1494). The finding comes from neurobiologist Andreas Zimmer's group at Germany's University of Bonn.

Itchy mouse: Cured by cannabinoid.

Zimmer and colleagues discovered the effect when they genetically engineered mice without two proteins that recognize CANNABINOIDS produced by the body. Unlike regular mice, the mutants scratched at their nickel-based ear tags but were itch-free when they were tagged with nonallergenic brass rings, suggesting that cannabinoids might protect the mice against skin allergies.

To see if this was the case, Zimmer's team whipped up a cannabinoid skin cream and tested it on mice exposed to 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene, a known skin allergen. Mice treated with the cannabinoid cream had less itching and swelling than those treated with standard skin cream.

A cautionary note to anyone thinking of concocting a home remedy: There's no evidence the therapy works in humans. Roman Rukweid, an inflammation specialist at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, tells Nature, "We are far before the day when we could say, 'Oh, I have a nickel allergy. I will smoke marijuana, and I won't have it anymore.' That is definitely not the case."

This week's column was written by Bethany Halford. Please send comments and suggestions to