Chinese poppy pain remedy studied

A poppy plant used for centuries in Chinese medicine may offer a new remedy for chronic pain, say scientists.

96d1f18e-723d-11e3-8b6d-0a0c0223000020140103T122914
Corydalis is often used to treat pain, including headaches and back pain

A poppy plant used for centuries in Chinese medicine may offer a new remedy for chronic pain, say scientists.

Corydalis, a member of the poppy family, contains a powerful pain-relieving compound in its roots, the US researchers found.

"Our study reports the discovery of a new natural product that can relieve pain," said Dr Olivier Civelli, from the University of California at Irvine. "This analgesic acts in animal assays against the three types of pain that afflict humans, including acute, inflammatory, and neuropathic or chronic pain."

The research forms part of the "herbalome" project which aims to catalogue all the chemical components of traditional Chinese medicines.

Corydalis is grown mainly in central eastern China, where its underground tubers are harvested, ground and boiled in hot vinegar.

It is often used to treat pain, including headaches and back pain.

Dr Civelli's team searched for compounds in the plant that appear to act in a similar way to morphine. Instead, they identified the compound dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) in Corydalis roots which behaves more like the nerve signalling chemical dopamine.

The finding adds to earlier evidence that dopamine plays a role in controlling pain sensation.

Corydalis extract or isolated DHCB may be especially good at treating persistent, low-level, chronic pain, said the scientists whose findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

Unlike opiate drugs such as morphine, DHCB does not seem to lose effectiveness over time.

"We have good pain medications for acute pain: codeine or morphine, for example," said Dr Civelli. "We have pain medication for inflammatory pain, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. We do not have good medications for chronic pain. DHCB may not be able to relieve strong chronic pain, but may be used for low-level chronic pain."

Although Corydalis preparations can already be bought online, DHCB should not be prescribed to patients without further toxicity testing, the researchers warn.