Scientists may have finally found a non-addictive alternative to morphine, which is a potentially lethal and highly addictive opium. After decades of research, the previously unrivaled morphine is being sidelined by a new compound and it comes without any dangerous side-effects.
Common side effects of morphine include constipation, dizziness, fatigue, mild itching, and anxiety.
What is the new compound?
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and University of California in San Francisco have identified a new pain-numbing compound known as PZM21. The team, led by Dr. Aashish Maglik, searched for something that would fit the specific type of opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to effectively numb pain, which is how they discovered PZM21.
Powerful computers were used to test more than 3 million compounds, each in 1.3 million configurations, on average. The top 0.08% of the compounds were then checked manually, and 23 out of these 2500 were selected for advanced testing. 7 out of the 23 proved to be promising and were tested further, resulting in one compound being chosen, tweaked, re-arranged atomically and presented as PZM21.
How effective is PMZ21?
Tests conducted on mice revealed that a higher dosage of PMZ21 meant a higher level of pain relief. According to the study, it reduced pain by 87%, which comes close to the 92% of morphine.
PMZ21 was shown to attach itself to the same molecular receptors as morphine but did not share the same addictive properties. The only negative effect that PMZ21 has in common with morphine is on the respiratory system, with breathing slowing down significantly as the dosage increases.
The scientists published their findings of the study in the journal ‘Nature’. Brigitte Kieffer, an expert on opiate receptors, authored an essay that accompanied the study, saying: “An ideal opioid would kill pain potently without producing morphine’s harmful respiratory effects, would show sustained efficacy in chronic treatments, and would not be addictive. PMZ21 represents a step towards this perfect drug.”
If successful, this new compound could save millions of people from the increasing epidemic of painkiller addiction. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sales figures and overdose fatalities related to prescriptive opioids have quadrupled since 1999. More than 1000 people are admitted to American emergency rooms every day and more than 14000 people per year die from opioid overdoses. Morphine, OxyContin, and Vicodin are the most common compounds on the list.
What is morphine?
Morphine has revolutionized the medical industry since it was first isolated in the 19th century by assisting in controlling the pain associated with surgery and other medical procedures.
It is derived from the natural extracts of the poppy plant and is widely used as a narcotic to treat pain. It is useful in reducing acute and chronic pain and improving shortness of breath but also comes with a dangerous and addictive list of side-effects.
Professor Shoichet from the University of California co-led the study and said: “Morphine transformed medicine.” He is hopeful that PMZ21 will have the same result, while simultaneously eliminating the dangers associated with such a powerful painkiller.
However, research is still ongoing.