Researchers make breakthrough in pain relief properties of cannabis

Researchers at Ontario’s University of Guelph are the first to uncover how the cannabis plant creates important pain-relieving molecules that are 30 times more powerful at reducing inflammation than Aspirin.

The discovery unlocks the potential
to create a naturally derived pain treatment that would offer potent relief
without the risk of addiction of other painkillers.

“There’s clearly a need to develop
alternatives for relief of acute and chronic pain that go beyond opioids,” said
Professor Tariq Akhtar, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who
worked on the study with MCB professor Steven Rothstein.

Professor Tariq Akhtar

“These molecules are non-psychoactive
and they target the inflammation at the source, making them ideal painkillers.”

Using a combination of biochemistry
and genomics, the researchers were able to determine how cannabis makes two
important molecules called cannflavin A and cannflavin B.

Known as “flavonoids”, cannflavins A and B were first identified in 1985, when research verified they provide anti-inflammatory benefits that were nearly 30 times more effective gram-for-gram than acetylsalicylic acid (sold as Aspirin).


However, further investigation into
the molecules stalled for decades in part because research on cannabis was
highly regulated. With cannabis now legal in Canada and genomics research
greatly advanced, Akhtar and Rothstein decided to analyse cannabis to
understand how Cannabis sativa biosynthesizes cannflavins.

“Our objective was to better
understand how these molecules are made, which is a relatively straightforward
exercise these days,” explained Akhtar.

“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.”

With the genomic information at hand,
they applied classical biochemistry techniques to verify which cannabis genes
were required to create cannflavins A and B. Their full findings were recently
published in the journal Phytochemistry.

These findings provide the
opportunity to create natural health products containing these important

“Being able to offer a new pain
relief option is exciting, and we are proud that our work has the potential to
become a new tool in the pain relief arsenal,” added Rothstein.

Currently, chronic pain sufferers often need to use opioids, which work by blocking the brain’s pain receptors but carry the risk of significant side effects and addiction. Cannflavins would target pain with a different approach, by reducing inflammation.

Not feasible

problem with these molecules is they are present in cannabis at such low
levels, it’s not feasible to try to engineer the cannabis plant to create more
of these substances,” said Rothstein.

“We are now working to develop a biological system to create
these molecules, which would give us the opportunity to engineer large

research team has partnered with a Toronto-based company, Anahit International
Corp, which has licensed a patent from the University of Guelph to
biosynthesize cannflavin A and B outside of the cannabis plant.

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,” said Anahit chief operating officer Darren Carrigan.

will commercialise the application of cannflavin A and B to be
accessible to consumers through a variety of medical and athletic products such
as creams, pills, sports drinks, transdermal patches and other innovative

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