Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario have uncovered how cannabis creates pain-relieving molecules that are 30 times more effective than Aspirin at reducing inflammation.

The researchers used a combination of biochemistry and genomics to unearth the secrets behind marijuana’s success as a medicine. They said their discovery unlocks the potential to create a natural pain treatment method that offers potent relief and does not come with the risk of addiction associated with traditional painkillers.

Cannabis produces two flavonoids called cannflavin A and cannflavin B, which contain extremely anti-inflammatory properties. They were identified all the way back in 1985, but the prohibition of cannabis prevented research into how the two molecules are actually produced.

When Canada legalized adult-use cannabis last year, a team of scientists from the university’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology set out to verify how sativa biosynthesizes cannflavins and which cannabis genes are required to create cannflavins A and B.

The team has now cracked the mystery and it revealed that they come from a non-psychoactive part of the plant, allowing medical cannabis companies to produce more effective natural health products.

“There’s clearly a need to develop alternatives for relief of acute and chronic pain that go beyond opioids,” said researcher Prof. Tariq Akhtar. “These molecules are non-psychoactive and they target the inflammation at the source, making them ideal painkillers.”

Opioids block the brain’s pain receptors to provide relief, whereas cannflavins reduce inflammation in order to target the pain in a more natural way.

Another member of the research team, Prof. Steven Rothstein, said the challenge is that cannabis contains extremely low levels of cannflavin A and cannflavin B. It means that it would be impractical to harvest huge amounts of cannabis for small gains of these molecules.

The team is now working on a way of biologically engineering these molecules so that it can create larger quantities. Toronto-based firm Anahit International Corp. has licensed a patent from the University of Guelph to biosynthesize cannflavin A and B outside of the cannabis plant and the researchers will now try to bring this to market as a form of medical marijuana.

Anahit envisages creating a range of creams, pills, sports drinks, transdermal patches, and “other innovative options” made using the cannflavin molecules.