A new drug that kills pain like marijuana, without getting you stoned

One reason why medical professionals have lobbied tirelessly to legalize medical marijuana is that the drug can be a powerful painkiller. Now researchers have invented a drug that acts just like marijuana, but never goes to your head.

And I mean that literally. The drug, glamorously named URB937 acts on your nervous system's cannabinoid receptors - the same ones that make you stoned if smoke pot - but doesn't affect those receptors in your brain. According to a release from Nature, where the research on URB937 was published last night:

The cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor-which is known to mediate the effects of marijuana-also recognizes the body's own endocannabinoids. CB1 receptors are found both within the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system . . . Daniele Piomelli and colleagues have developed a molecule that activates CB1 only outside the brain and spinal cord. The drug, with the code name URB937, inhibits an enzyme that degrades one of the endocannabinoids, known as anandamide. In rats, the scientists found that this drug elevated anandamide levels, increased CB1 activation and consequently alleviated several kinds of peripheral pain. URB937 entered the brain, but unlike other CB1 activators, was quickly recognized and pumped out of the brain . . .

In other words, every part of your nervous system except the neurons in your brain is affected by this drug. It could be the silver bullet doctors have been looking for - all the medical benefits of pot, without the getting wasted part.

via Nature