By combining compounds from cannabis and vitamin A, a team of Australian researchers has uncovered a promising new approach to fat-busting medication. The team's work may pave the way for obesity treatments with fewer side effects than current medications and negate the need for invasive surgeries.

An active compound of cannabis is known to regulate appetite and influence fat formation in humans, but researchers have baulked at the effect it can have on the brain. Researchers at Deakin University have now found a way to nullify these adverse effects.

This involves combining it with retinoic acid, which is an active component of vitamin A. The researchers say how this interacts with the endocannabinoid system to provide the fat-reducing effect isn't exactly clear, but testing the drug in zebrafish and human cells nonetheless returned promising results.

"The complementary actions of the endocannabinoid system and retinoic acid pathway in reducing fat deposits have the potential to treat obesity in a safer and more effective way than if they were used independently," says Dr Yann Gibert, head of Deakin's Metabolic Genetic Diseases Research Laboratory. "The results of our study show, for the first time, that particular compounds in cannabis and vitamin A can work together to reduce the deposit of lipids (fats),"

Researchers around the world are continuing to widen the net in the search for effective obesity-fighting medications. We have seen the development of drugs that could come to turn white fat into brown fat and ones that promise to reverse age-dependent diabetes. More recently, we covered the development of a molecule that influences the metabolic process to imitate the effects of exercise.

Enthused by their promising early findings, the Deakin researchers will continue to test the drug's effectiveness and seek to rule out potential adverse effects.

"If there are no side effects, new therapeutics could be ready for human use within five years," says Gilbert.

The research was published in the journal Endocrinology.