Researchers say they have derived a drug from marijuana that relieves pain without the mood-altering, giggle-inducing side effects.
And you don't need to roll it and smoke it, either.
Sumner Burstein, a professor of molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said the drug, called ajulemic acid, could improve the treatment of a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
"We believe that ajulemic acid will replace aspirin and similar drugs in most applications primarily because of a lack of toxic side effects," he said. "The indications so far are that it's safe and effective."
Burstein presented the findings Wednesday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston.
To date, most of the research looking at the drug's ability to control pain and inflammation has been done on animals. Ajulemic acid is also called CT-3.
Two human trials, involving only 35 patients, have been conducted, Burstein told the conference. The findings have not been peer reviewed, so could be viewed with some skepticism.
The principal pain-killing compound in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); but THC is also what makes pot smokers high.
Ajulemic acid is a synthetic derivative of THC. In animal tests, it was up to 50 times more potent than THC as a painkiller. People who took the drug did not experience any of the mood-altering effects usually associated with marijuana.
Burstein said the new compound is far more potent than aspirin and ibuprofen, but does not appear to have the same side effects, namely gastrointestinal problems.
With an increasing number of medically beneficial compounds being found in marijuana, researchers have been searching for years for ways to use these compounds therapeutically without the associated high. They have had little success.
To date, only one marijuana-derived drug has been approved in the United States. Marinol is prescribed as an appetite stimulant for people with HIV-AIDS and those suffering from nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy.