A new drug, claim American and Italian researchers, stimulates a chemical with marijuana-like effects in the body to deal with pain after an injury.
Daniele Piomelli at UC Irvine and his colleagues found that such compounds could form the basis of pain medications that don't produce sedation, addiction or other central nervous system side effects common with existing painkillers, such as opiates.
"Marijuana itself is sometimes used in clinical settings for pain relief but causes many unwanted effects. However, specific drugs that amplify the actions of natural, marijuana-like chemicals are showing great promise," Nature quoted Piomelli as saying.
The team found that the drug did not enter the central nervous system, but still produced a profound analgesic effect for both acute and chronic pain.
It blocks an enzyme in the body that breaks down anandamide, dubbed "the bliss molecule". Blocking FAAH activity enhances the effects of anandamide without generating the "high" seen with marijuana.
Piomelli and his team are now collaborating with drug discovery specialists to develop the new compound into a clinically useful medication.
The study appears in the Sept. 19 online version of Nature Neuroscience.