Millions live with chronic pain, while millions more suffer bouts with acute pain due to injuries or surgery.
Opium-based painkillers, such as morphine and oxycodone have been around for decades. These are the same painkillers used for decades. When it comes to painkillers, we've learned very little about what they actually do to the body.
Worse yet, opioids are highly addictive and can cause hallucinations and psychological disorders, not to mention nausea, difficulty breathing, constipation and many other alarming negative effects.
Now, finally, it looks like scientists may have come up with a new painkiller that is natural. A compound derived from an Asian tree bark that appears to ease pain without causing addiction or serious side effects.
Can a Stick Do the Trick?
At The Scripps Research Institute in Florida, researchers have undertaken a study of Tabernaemontana divaricata, also known as crepe jasmine, a tropical flowering plant that has long been used in traditional medicine in China, India and Thailand. Natural practitioners in these countries prescribe various parts of the plant (from flowers to leaves, roots and bark) to heal wounds, fight toothaches and treat skin diseases, fever and pain. When it comes to pain, it turns out that one of the most promising elements in crepe jasmine is conolidine, an extremely rare constituent of the stem bark of Malayan T. divaricata.
Managing Your Pain
Both men and women can use the following tips from the American Pain Foundation to help take control of their pain.
- Keep a pain diary. Record the time, type and intensity of the pain on a daily basis or even from episode to episode. Note what you were doing when and immediately before the pain began or changed. Explain how the pain feels: sharp, dull, throbbing or tingling? Record the intensity of the pain on a scale from 1 to 10. These details may help you health practitioner find the cause and best treatment for the pain.
- Discuss all medications including over-the-counter, alternative, and dietary supplements with your health practitioner.
- Try Non-Drug Pain Relief. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis have been shown to help relieve chronic pain.
- Get Moving! You don't have to be a marathon runner to reap the benefits of exercise. Walking, stretching, and simple activities like raking leaves, gardening and mowing the lawn all promote mental and physical health.
- Join a support group. Talk therapy has been shown to help people manage their pain. Ask your doctor, look in newspapers, phone books or on the Internet for names of groups in your community.
In the Scripps laboratory, researchers looked for a way to get sufficient quantities of this hard-to-obtain substance and for the first time created a synthetic conolidine compound. Once they accomplished this feat, they tested its effectiveness on mice. In various pain models (the researchers used acid to cause pain and inflammation on the paws of the mice), investigators found that the newly synthesized compound...
- Was present in high concentrations for up to four hours after administration and passed readily through the blood-brain barrier. This is important as many areas in the brain are involved in the perception of pain.
- Effectively relieved acute and longer-lasting inflammatory pain in mice. Scientists measured this by observing such things as how often mice attended to and licked injured paws.
- Did not show harmful side effects. Mice demonstrate certain characteristic movements when exposed to morphine -- for instance, they become disoriented and walk in circular patterns -- which did not happen after conolidine injections.
These findings were published in the May 23, 2011 issue of Nature Chemistry.
Scientists are not sure exactly how conolidine relieves pain. It does not bind to opiate receptors in the body and thus is not an opiate like morphine. But it certainly appears to be effective. Much more study is needed, but this may finally turn out to be the alternative to opiates we've been hoping for. Its broad and effective usage over time in India, Thailand and China is yet another reason for hope.