Among the many extraordinary medicinal and health-bringing properties of cannabis, new research pinpoints two of the plant’s flavonoids with the potential to completely change the way we treat pain.
First identified back in 1985, cannflavins A and B are molecules with potent anti-inflammatory properties; the original 1985 research showed that gram for gram, these cannflavins were nearly 30 times more effective than aspirin.
However, this exciting discovery was not further developed at the time. With the relevant flavonoids present in cannabis at only very low levels, it was clear that it would not have been commercially viable to grow the plants and extract the flavonoids for medicinal purposes. Furthermore, the prevailing anti-cannabis narrative at the time made continued research extremely difficult, not least due to a lack of funding.
Fast forward to 2017 and Canada’s 2017 Cannabis Act – this legislation enabled universities and researchers in Canada to begin ground-breaking work into the properties of the cannabis plant. In the intervening decades, huge advances in genomics have enabled many genomes, including that of Cannabis sativa, to be sequenced, enabling scientists to examine how individual molecules are assembled. Now, nearly 35 years after these flavonoids were first discovered, researchers at the University of Guelph have discovered how to biosynthesize the molecules. Their study has been published in the August edition of the journal Phytochemistry
Being able to synthesize cannflavins A and B opens up a world of potential. With the world currently suffering from opioid addiction, alternative, more natural forms of pain relief are badly needed. Where opioids work to block the brain’s pain receptors, the cannabis flavonoids instead stop inflammation at the source, meaning pain signals never make it to the brain in the first place.
The anti-inflammatory molecules are not psychoactive, and any pain relief product created using cannflavins would avoid the side-effects and addiction issues that plague synthetic opioids and other synthetic painkillers.
The University of Guelph has now licensed a patent to Anahit International Corp, which will work with the university’s researchers to create a range of natural health products using cannflavins; they hope to eventually produce creams, transdermal patches, sports drinks, and other items to help reduce inflammation and manage pain.
“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,” said Prof Steven Rothstein, of Guelph’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
It may have been a long 35 years in the making, but there’s a delicious irony to the idea that the cannabis plant, so long maligned by the mainstream, may now be leading to a major advance in how we treat pain.