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Cure for aches, pains and spliff joints

Sun, 29th Jun 2008

Scientists have uncovered a powerful anti-inflammatory compound in cannabis and other herbs.

Cannabis extractBonn University researcher Andreas Zimmer and his colleagues, writing in this week's PNAS, describe the action of a molecule called BCP - beta-caryophyllene, which has been used for years as a food additive thanks to its peppery flavour.  It crops up naturally in tasty herbs and spices like oregano, cinnamon and black pepper, as well as being present at high concentrations in cannabis extracts.  But the team have found that unlike the other psychoactive constituents of cannabis, which are chiefly THCs - tetrahydrocannabinols - BCP has no effect on mood but does have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

The researchers showed that white blood cells incubated first with BCP and then exposed to bacterial cell wall components produce significantly lower levels of inflammatory hormones than when the BCP is not present.  Also, injecting the chemical into mice resulted in the animals developing far less inflammation when their paws were exposed to an irritant. 

Since this chemical is present in high concentrations in cannabis, which has been licensed for medical use in a number of countries, it could therefore account for the beneficial pain-relieving effects of cannabis described by users.  BCP may therefore offer a alternative with fewer mood-altering consequences.  At the same time the presence of BCP in many fruits and vegetables could account for the protective effects of these foodstuffs against bowel cancer, which is thought to be caused by persistent low grade inflammation.

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