A new study published in the journal Nature Chemistry provides new insight into the power of a rare type of tree bark to relieve serious pain. Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute (SRI) in Florida discovered that the bark of the Tabernaemontana divaricata plant, also known as crepe jasmine, contains a compound known as conolidine that appears to be just as effective at treating pain as morphine, but without all the harmful side effects.
Glenn Micalizio, an associate professor at the SRI Department of Chemistry, and his colleagues first had to figure out a way to synthesize conolidine in order to study it. Once they did, they discovered for the first time that conolidine is an effective alternative to traditional opioid analgesics. And because it does not cause nausea, constipation, breathing problems, and even death like morphine can, conolidine has great potential to become a natural replacement for this and other pain medications.
Not an opioid itself, conolidine remains a bit of a mystery. Researchers are not quite sure how the substance works to relieve both acute and inflammatory pain in a similar way as opioids do without acting upon the same cellular receptors. In fact, the team investigated more than 50 probable cellular targets and determined that conolidine did not interact with them as the suspected, which leaves them at a loss for an explanation as to how the substance works.
Either way, conolidine exhibited no harmful side effects, so its viability as an effective replacement to side effect-producing drugs like morphine is considerable, even without mechanistic details. But researchers still plan to conduct additional research as they further develop the substance in the hope that they might reach a more definitive conclusion.
“Conolidine is a very potent analgesic,” said Micalizio. “But it is not an opiate. It doesn’t bind to the opioid receptors.”
Long before conolidine was chemically synthesized, traditional Chinese, Indian, and Thai forms of medicine utilized natural extracts from the crepe jasmine plant to treat pain. Root, leaf, and bark powders and extracts derived from the plant are available from some vendors of natural herbs and traditional medicines.
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