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Building a Better Painkiller

Updated: Feb 25

Summary: Cannabidiol (CBD) simultaneously acts on two targets in pain-sensing neurons. Researchers are developing new drugs that have similar actions to CBD that may be better absorbed by the body.

Source: Harvard

In recent years, cannabidoil, a compound derived from cannabis plants, has begun popping up more and more in everyday life.

Now legal in most U.S. states, the cannabinoid commonly known as CBD can be found in supermarkets and drugstores, where it is often sold as a gummy, an oil, or a cream, and is praised by some for its pain-suppressing properties.

But does CBD actually relieve pain? If so, how precisely does it do so? And what would it take to harness the beneficial properties of CBD into a safe and effective pain medicine?

These are some of the questions that Bruce Bean, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, and Clifford Woolf, HMS professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital, have teamed up to explore.

Their research so far, conducted in animal models and cells, suggests that CBD simultaneously acts on two targets in pain-sensing neurons. They are now using this information to develop drugs that work the same way as CBD and are similarly safe and nonaddictive, but are more effectively absorbed by the body Untreated pain is a significant and widespread health issue that can interfere with daily activities, lead to poor mental health, and generally result in a reduced quality of life for those afflicted. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 20.4 percent of U.S. adults, or 50 million people, suffer from chronic pain, defined as pain lasting longer than three to six months.

An earlier study suggests that the economic toll of chronic pain in the United States is between $560 and $635 billion per year. However, some of the currently available and commonly prescribed pain medicines have tremendous addictive potential, leaving those who use them vulnerable to becoming dependent.

“Something that would relieve pain that’s not addictive is a great unmet need, and remains one of the most formidable challenges in modern medicine,” Bean said.

A Convergence of Research:

Bean and Woolf have long shared an interest in developing better pain medicines. Currently, effective treatments for pain are somewhat limited, Woolf said, and opioid-based drugs prescribed for pain carry a significant risk of addiction, contributing in part to the widespread opioid crisis...


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