One of cannabis’ most important health claims -- that it reduces pain -- has been proven by a large body of medical studies over the decades. The THC and CBD in medical marijuana are credited with decreasing pain, inflammation (swelling and redness) and muscle control problems.

Researchers worldwide, including those funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), continue exploring the possible uses of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids for medical treatment. They’re also conducting preclinical and clinical trials with marijuana and its extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions such as pain and inflammation.

Now, Canadian researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario have unlocked the pain relief potential of cannabis.

In doing so, they’ve become the first to uncover how the cannabis plant creates important pain-relieving molecules called "flavonoids" that are 30 times more powerful at reducing inflammation than Aspirin. Their discovery unlocked the potential to create a naturally derived pain treatment that offers potent relief without the risk of addiction of other painkillers such as highly addictive opioids

"There's clearly a need to develop alternatives for relief of acute and chronic pain that go beyond opioids," Prof. Tariq Akhtar, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who worked on the study with MCB professor Steven Rothstein, said. "These molecules are non-psychoactive and they target the inflammation at the source, making them ideal painkillers.

Using a combination of biochemistry and genomics, researchers determined how cannabis makes two important molecules called cannflavin A and cannflavin B. These two flavonoids were first identified in 1985.

Research verified they provide anti-inflammatory benefits nearly 30 times more effective gram-for-gram than acetylsalicylic acid (or Aspirin).

Further investigation into the molecules came to a standstill for decades in part because cannabis was illegal in Canada. This situation changed on Oct. 17, 2018 when the recreational use of cannabis was legalized throughout the country. Medical cannabis became legal in Canada on July 30, 2001.

The legalization of weed accelerated the genomics research into the medical properties of weed. Akhtar and Rothstein decided to analyze cannabis to understand how Cannabis sativa biosynthesizes cannflavins.

Their full findings were published recently in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Phytochemistry. It provided the opportunity to create natural health products containing these flavonoid molecules.

"Being able to offer a new pain relief option is exciting, and we are proud that our work has the potential to become a new tool in the pain relief arsenal," said Rothstein.

Cannflavins will target pain with a different approach, by reducing inflammation.

On the other hand, opioids, which are used by chronic pain sufferers, block the brain's pain receptors but carry the risk of significant addiction.

Rothstein said they’re now working to develop a biological system to create these molecules that will give them the opportunity to engineer large quantities.

Dewayne Johnson is among hundreds of patients who sued Monsanto alleging that their products cause cancer. Cade Martin/Pixnio