Is cannabis a better painkiller than aspirin? Scientists seem to think so

The way in which opioids react with the body to provide pain relief is quite different to the way in which flavonoids work


A study featured in the August publication of the journal Phytochemistry has demonstrated cannabis’ pain-killing properties. In order to conduct the study, a group of researchers explored the plant’s naturally-occurring molecules and their potential as a replacement for opioid painkillers.

What they discovered was quite astonishing; cannflavin A and cannflavin B molecules were 30 times as strong as over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers like aspirin. Although aspirin does not fall into the opioid classification of pharmaceutical drugs, the vast majority of painkillers prescribed to patients throughout the U.S. belongs to the opiate family.

The results of this cannabis study offers an interesting Insight into the ways in which the opioid epidemic can be overcome. According to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), approximately 130 Americans lose their lives to opioid overdoses on a daily basis. 

Some of the most commonly prescribed OTC opioids include Fentanyl (Duragesic), Oxycodone (OxyContin) and Hydrocodone (Vicodin). These types of prescription meds are known for their sedating effects and are prone to cause addiction in users.

“There’s clearly a need to develop alternatives for relief of acute and chronic pain that go beyond opioids,” wrote the study author Tariq Akhtar, who assumes the job title of biology professor at the University of Guelph.

Cannflavin A and cannflavin B are non-psychoactive 

When applied for pain-relief, the molecules investigated by the Canadian researchers for this cannabis study demonstrated their anti-inflammatory effects, without producing any psychoactivity. 

Despite the fact that cannabis is famed for its psychotropic properties, of which come from the plant’s mind-altering cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), patients need not experience a ‘high’ in order to benefit from natural pain relief.

The pain-relieving molecules focused on in this cannabis study are also known as “flavonoids”. While this is not the first time that scientists have discovered flavonoids, it is the first time that they have learned exactly how these molecules are produced by the cannabis plant; albeit in trace amounts.

Steven Rothstein is also a professor of biology at the university. He described the study as “exciting” and is proud that he and his team are able to make a difference in providing people who suffer from chronic pain with an alternative to OTC meds like opioids.

“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,” explained Rothstein, adding that the process is “relatively straightforward” to execute nowadays. 

The way in which opioids react with the body to provide pain relief is quite different to the way in which flavonoids work. Cannabis molecules directly target the site of inflammation to ease discomfort. Opioids, on the other hand, react with the brain by blocking pain-causing signals.

Researchers to produce cannabis-based anti-inflammatory medicines in pharmaceutical company partnership

Although flavonoids demonstrate impressive painkilling properties in comparison with opioid painkillers, the researchers made a point of noting how cannabis molecules of this kind are produced in extremely small quantities. 

What this means is that cannabis plant production methods must be tweaked in order to ensure the plants yield large amounts of flavonoids, which could be a tricky process.

“The problem with these molecules is that 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,” Rothstein admitted.

All hope is not lost, however. Austin and his team are currently in the process of developing a biological system that will churn out higher quantities of the molecules for use as pharmaceutical agents. Guelph University researchers have taken it upon themselves to join forces with a pharmaceutical company based in Toronto called Anahit International to get the job done.

Anahit’s chief operating officer Darren Carrigans has confirmed that he and the researchers will capitalize on this partnership by making “effective and safe anti-inflammatory medicines from cannabis phytochemicals.”