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Marijuana-derived compound targets pain, inflammation

BOSTON, Aug. 21 -- Researchers are developing a marijuana-derived synthetic compound to relieve pain and inflammation without the mood-altering side effects associated with other marijuana based drugs.

They say the compound could improve treatment of a variety of conditions, inctluding chronic pain, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Their findings were presented at the 224th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

The compound, called ajulemic acid, has produced encouraging results in animal studies of pain and inflammation. It is undergoing tests in a group of people with chronic pain and could be available by prescription within two to three years, the researchers say.

"We believe that [the compound] will replace aspirin and similar drugs in most applications primarily because of a lack of toxic side effects," says Sumner Burstein, Ph.D., lead investigator in the study and a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. "The indications so far are that it's safe and effective," he added.

At a safety trial of the compound conducted in France last year among 15 healthy volunteers, no clinically adverse events were reported, including gastrointestinal ulcers, which have been associated with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds such as aspirin and ibuprofen. No mood-altering effects were reported, Burstein said.

Ajulemic acid is being tested in Germany among a group of 21 patients with chronic severe pain. Results are not yet available.

In animal tests, the compound was 10 to 50 times more potent as a pain-killer than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main mood-altering ingredient of marijuana. Laboratory studies indicate that the compound, a synthetic derivative of THC, is more potent than aspirin and ibuprofen, says Burstein.

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