Two new pain meds are set to hit the market. One is 10,000 times hotter than the world's hottest pepper; the other is 10 times stronger than fentanyl. And the difference between spicy and scary could well be the difference between life and death.
The spicier of the two new pain meds comes from Morocco. Botanists know it as Euphorbia resinifera. More common folk call it the resin spurge. Spurges are flowering plants, or shrubs with blooms. This particular shrub blooms in clusters two feet high and seven feet wide. It also looks suspiciously like a cactus. Like all cacti, the Euphorbia's stem is spiny and succulent. But the plant's prickliness has nothing on its spiciness, which is 10,000 times hotter than the Carolina reaper. Considering the Carolina reaper is the hottest pepper on the planet, well, that's beyond hot.
So no, you don't want to grab ahold of Euphorbia resinifera. And you most definitely don't want to eat it. But there may come a day when you want to inject it. Or at least have a doctor inject it into you. And that day may come soon.
See, researchers have found that this prickly plant's active ingredient not only kills pain dead, but it does so in a safer and much more efficient manner than even the strongest of opioids.
The Secret Ingredient
That active ingredient is resiniferatoxin. It's what makes peppers so spicy and pepper spray so potent. Known to the trade as RXT, the drug's not an opioid. It's a vanilloid. But it effects the same primary sensory neurons mediating pain (nociception) and neurogenic inflammation. Unlike opioids though, RXT works on a targeted area rather than the brain itself. In fact, the drug's injected into whatever part of the body ails a person then deactivates the pain-sensing nerve endings. Better still, it leaves the rest of the nerve endings alone.
"Therefore you can selectively knock out pain without knocking out, say, light touch or your ability to walk." says Tony Yaksh, an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist at UC San Diego.
Consequently, if you wanted to treat knee pain, you could directly inject RTX into the knee tissue, reads Matt Simon's Wired report. And you end up with a knee that’s desensitized to pain.
Researchers have already done this with dogs, Simon says. And the results are remarkable, in RXT's impact, as well as its duration.
"It is profoundly effective," says Michael Iadarola, who’s studying RTX at the National Institutes of Health. "The animals went from basically limping to running around."
"It lasts much, much longer than I might have expected," he adds. "Maybe a median of five months before the owners of the dogs asked for reinjection." One dog even went 18 months before its owners noticed the pain had returned.
Furthermore, opioids generally need to be taken continuously, which can lead to addiction. Not so with RTX.
“You give it once and it should last for an extended period of time because it is destroying the fibers,” says NIH anesthesiologist Andrew Mannes. “But the other thing with this to remember is there's no reinforcement. There's no high associated with it, there's no addiction potential whatsoever.”
Make no mistake, this is a serious drug for serious conditions, writes Simon. But by more directly addressing the root of pain, a plant with a hell of a kick could help us cut back on opioids and other grenade-like painkillers.
The scariest of the two new pain meds isn't really new at all. But it has just been approved by the FDA. It's called sufentanil. And it's sold under the brand names Dsuvia and Sufenta. Whatever the name, sufentanil is five to 10 times more potent than its parent drug, fentanyl, and 500 times as potent as morphine.
That right. Five to 10 times more potent than fentanyl, the deadliest drug to ever hit America. In fact, sufentanil is currently the strongest opioid painkiller available for use in humans.
Okay, so sufentanil's mainly used in operating rooms and critical care situations. Places requiring short period pain-relief. The drug's also good for sedation, which makes it an advantageous anesthetic to use during an operation. Because sufentanil is so potent though, it's often used for patients that are heavily opioid dependent/opioid tolerant.
In other words, sufentanil works when other opioids don't or won't. Worse, it now comes in tablet form. So it's only a matter of time before the heavily-addicted start seeking its high.
Why the FDA would suddenly approve such a dangerous new drug is anybody's guess. The Agency says use must be limited to certified medically supervised health care settings, such as hospitals, surgical centers, and emergency departments. We say even the most strictly-monitored healthcare facilities can be compromised, especially where addiction is concerned. We've all seen addicts do preposterous things to get the drugs they need. You don't think they'd lie and cheat and steal to get their hands on the most potent opioid out there?
New Pain Meds: Which Way Should We Go?
We at Recovery Boot Camp believe there's a reason for everything grown on this earth. Yes, even the opium-producing poppy. And it's up to us to use such wonders responsibly. After all, opium's been effectively used since 3400 BCE. And while derivatives such as heroin and morphine are admittedly addictive and can potentially be lethal, we see no reason for even more addictive and deadly drugs to be brought to market.
We do though see a reason for such new pain meds as RTX. Euphorbium extract also has a history (traced back to Roman Emperor Augustus). And it too springs from the earth. And we believe it's nature's way of saying we're on the right track.