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Sea Snail Venom Could Become Alternative to Prescription Opioids

While an increasing number of the United States population has sunk into a savage slump of addiction as a result of the pill pushing swindlers of the prescription painkiller industry, scientists believe they have discovered something deep in the waters of the Caribbean Sea that just might have the power to put the junkie nation back together again.

Researchers at the University of Utah say they have stumbled onto a small sea snail that they believe holds the answer to opioid addiction. A study published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that it is the venom of these tiny marine mollusks (Conus regius) that actually has such a wild therapeutic effect on the brain.

In all actuality, it is a specific compound of the venom (Rg1A) that has medicinal properties. Scientists say this component has an uncanny ability to run interference on pain receptors that are completely unaffected by opioid medications, the report reads.

“Nature has evolved molecules that are extremely sophisticated, and can have unexpected applications,” Baldomero Olivera professor of biology at the University of Utah, said in a statement.

The goal of the study was to “addresses the need to phase out opioids as the major analgesic drugs for moderate to severe chronic pain,” which researchers believe they have achieved.

This is not the first time scientists have hypothesized over how the RgIA compound could be beneficial in creating non-opioid medications. Previous research shows that this aspect of the snails’ venom, which is used to paralyze and kill prey in the deep, has killed pain in rodents in a number of experiments. However, it wasn’t until now that researchers say they have been able to understand the full scope of how this compound works on pain.

Interestingly, researchers say the compound provides pain relief for up to 72 hours after being introduced to the body—a detail that could render current pain medications obsolete.

Although the latest discovery may not be the cure all for those minds that have already succumbed to opioid addiction, it may open up a new avenue for the pharmaceutical industry to begin marketing more natural pain management tools that do not come with such high risks.

“What is particularly exciting about these results is the aspect of prevention,” said researcher J. Michael McIntosh. “Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat. This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent chronic pain from developing in the first place and also offers a new therapy to patients with established pain who have run out of options.”

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