By Mac Molli
Researchers at the University of Guelph found how the sativa strain of the cannabis plant creates important pain-relieving molecules that are thirty times more powerful at reducing inflammation than Aspirin. Their findings show the potential to create a naturally derived pain treatment that gives potent relief without the risk of addiction to prescribed pills.
Tariq Akhtar, a Professor at the University of Guelph’s Molecular and Cellular Biology Department said, “There’s clearly a need to develop alternatives for relief of acute and chronic pain that go beyond opioids. These molecules are non-psychoactive and they target the inflammation at the source, making them ideal painkillers.”
The research team partnered with a Anahit International Corp., a Toronto-based company which licensed a patent from the University of Guelph to biosynthesize cannflavin A and B outside of the cannabis plant. Professor Akhtar worked with MCB professor Steven Rothstein on a procedure that uses a combination of biochemistry and genomics. They successfully determined how cannabis makes two important molecules named cannflavin A and B, known as flavonoids, which provide anti-inflammatory benefits that are nearly 30 times more effective (gram for gram) than Aspirin.
In the past decades, research into these molecules stalled in part because cannabis research was highly regulated, since its legalization in Canada and improved genomics research, the two researchers were able to analyze and understand how Cannabis sativa biosynthesized cannflavins.
“Our objective was to better understand how these molecules are made, which is a relatively straightforward exercise these days,” said 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.”
Once they had the genomic information, they applied biochemistry to verify which cannabis genes were required to created cannflavins A and B. Their findings allow for natural health products to be produced containing these molecules. Most who suffer from chronic pain are prescribed opioids which work by blocking the brain's pain receptors, those who take these medications run the risk of negative side effects and addiction. However, Cannflavins work differently by targeting the pain by reducing inflammation.
Rothstein states, “The 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. We are now working to develop a biological system to create these molecules, which would give us the opportunity to engineer large quantities.”
Anahit’s Chief Operating Officer Darren Carrigan, who patented the work of the Guelph researchers stated, “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 will commercialize 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 options.”