Researchers from the University of Guelph have unlocked the secret to creating a naturally derived treatment that effectively offers pain relief. This natural pain reliever involves cannabis, and scientists have found just how the plant creates important molecules that make it 30 times more powerful than Aspirin in reducing inflammation.
The new study used a combination of genomics and biochemistry in determining how cannabis produces two important molecules that offer potent relief minus the risk of addiction. Other painkillers may be effective in giving patients relief, but they come with the addiction risk.
Prof. Tariq Akhtar of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who worked on the study alongside MCB professor Steven Rothstein, said that there is a need to develop alternatives beyond opioids for the relief of chronic and acute pain. These cannabis molecules target the inflammation at the source and directly get to the pain. They are non-psychoactive, making them the ideal painkillers.
These two molecules are called cannflavin A and cannflavin B, and they are flavonoids. They were first identified in 1985 and research had verified that they do have anti-inflammatory properties that were nearly 30 times more powerful gram-for-gram than Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid.
The only problem was that further studies on these molecules were stalled in part because cannabis research was strictly regulated.
However, now that cannabis is legal in Canada and with the advancement of genomics research, Akhtar and Rothstein decided to look further into cannabis and understand how it biosynthesizes cannflavins. They used biochemical techniques in order to work out which genes and enzymes are involved in the production of the two flavonoids.
Akhtar said in a statement that their objective was to understand how the two molecules are made, and this exercise is now relatively straightforward. He explained that there are many publicly available sequenced genomes, including the genome of Cannabis sativa, and these can be mined for information.
If you know what you are looking for, Akhtar said, you can bring genes to life and you can piece together how molecules such as cannflavin A and cannflavin B are assembled.
Akhtar and Rothstein hope that their findings could one day help in the development of new painkillers that will help tackle the opioid crisis.
In fact, with their new understanding of how the two pain-fighting cannflavins are synthesized, the researchers are now trying to develop a biological system that’s able to produce these molecules in large quantities. Cannaflavins A and B are actually produced by cannabis in small amounts, so even genetically engineered plants would not be capable of producing sufficient amounts of these molecules.
The research team’s findings are published in Phytochemistry journal.