Skip to content

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size

Got Pain? Researchers Have Some Ideas That May Surprise You

By
WebMD Health News

April 14, 2000 (New York) -- Researchers seeking new ways to relieve the pain that persistently plagues many Americans are looking in some unusual places: a snail found in the Philippines, a poisonous frog from Ecuador, and the marijuana plant.

According to a recent Gallup survey, pain is a fact of life for many in the U.S., with 46% of women and 37% of men reporting that they experience some pain daily. Pain can be acute, or short-lived, like that experienced after an accident; or chronic, meaning it lasts long after an injury has healed or is due to persistent inflammation or nerve damage. Some diseases, such as diabetes and shingles, can cause long-term pain that is difficult to treat.

Several types of pain medication are now commonly used, but all have drawbacks. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, and the anti-inflammatory drug Tylenol are used for milder pain. But they don't work on all types of pain, and some may result in side effects such as bleeding in the intestinal tract. For more severe pain, doctors may give narcotics, which can cause problems such as slowed breathing and constipation, and which can also be addictive with prolonged use. This has led researchers to look for drugs that have the same actions without the side effects.

A review in the April issue of Nature Biotechnology describes research that is uncovering how pain is eased and that is leading to the development of drugs from marijuana, peppers, snails, and frogs that target particular pain-production centers in the body, among other things.

One area of research involves the marijuana derivatives called cannabinoids. Like narcotics such as morphine and codeine, cannabinoids interfere with the area of the brain that perceives pain. Research at the University of California in San Francisco suggests that cannabinoids are more effective than opioids for some types of chronic pain. But cannabinoid research is controversial, and researchers are focusing on separating the compound's useful characteristics from the euphoric properties that make marijuana attractive to drug abusers.

Peppers are another hot area of pain research. Investigators treating patients with overactive bladders and a diabetes-related condition in which people experience pain in their extremities are working with a derivative of capsaicin, the main ingredient in hot peppers. Capsaicin itself is a pain reliever, but researchers say the derivative seems to have fewer side effects.

The lowly snail is making headlines, too, with reports that venom from the cone snail, which lives on the coast of the Philippines, is a potent drug for relieving pain after surgery and some types of chronic pain. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere have used a compound from the venom -- and say it is a thousand times more potent than morphine, and an option for very ill patients who do not respond to morphine.

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
illustration of nerves in hand
Slideshow
lumbar spine
Slideshow
 
Woman opening window
Slideshow
Man holding handful of pills
Video
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Sore feet with high heel shoes
Slideshow
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
man with a migraine
Slideshow