Researchers Discover How Cannabis Creates Pain-Relieving Molecules

26th July 2019

Humans have been using Cannabis for thousands of years to treat pain and inflammation, as it contains molecules that can be 30 times more effective at treating these complaints than aspirin. Despite having discovered the pain-killing molecules in 1985, researchers have only just revealed how the plant creates them.

The molecules are flavonoids known as cannflavin A and cannflavin B, and are found in Cannabis Sativa plants. Though they were originally discovered over 30 years ago, the prohibition of Cannabis in most societies led to a halt in research of the plant.

However, since the legalisation of Cannabis, for both medicinal and recreational use, in Canada, research in that region has greatly advanced. Researchers from the University of Guelph, in Canada, have discovered how the Cannabis plant creates these pain-killing molecules.

Professor Tariq Akhtar of the Department of Mollecular and Cellular Biology, and MCB Professor, Steven Rothstein, made the discovery using biochemistry and genomics. With genetic information of Cannabis Sativa now readily at hand, they were able to identify which Cannabis genes were required to produce the cannflavins.

Professor Tariq Akhtar, one of the University of Guelph reseachers, said:

“There are many sequenced genomes that are publicly available, including the genome of Cannabis sativa, which can be mined for information. If you know what you’re looking for, one can bring genes to life, so to speak, and piece together how molecules like cannflavins A and B are assembled.”

The discovery of how the molecules are produced, opens the door to potential pain-killing medications. As it stands, most people who suffer from acute and chronic pain have to turn to opioids, which are notorious for their significant risk of causing addiction. The US is currently in the grips of an opioid addiction epidemic, which sees between 8 and 12 per cent of patients, who are prescribed opioids, develop an opioid use disorder.

Despite being an extremely powerful anti-inflammatory, cannflavins occur in Cannabis in very low amounts. Professor Rothstein claims that cultivating Cannabis to create more of these molecules is not feasible. However, the Guelph University research team is working with a Toronto-based company to biosynthesise the flavonoids.

Darren Carrigan, Chief Operating  Officer at Anahit International Corp., said:

“Anahit looks forward to working closely with University of Guelph researchers to develop effective and safe anti-inflammatory medicines from cannabis phytochemicals that would provide an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.”

Anahit are planning to commercialise the application of cannflavin A and B to produce a variety of medical and athletic products such as creams, pills, sports drinks, trans-dermal patches and other innovative options.

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