Nova Scotia pain researchers are looking to key into the body’s own systems for relief through new products based on cannabinoids like those in cannabis.
A research team has founded a company called Panag Pharma Inc. to develop non-addictive, effective topical pain relievers that will be available over the counter.
Company president Dr. Mary Lynch is a professor at Dalhousie University and director of research in the pain management unit of the QEII Health Sciences Centre.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with and assisting people living with chronic pain conditions for 25 years,” Lynch said on Friday.
That wealth of experience has made it obvious to her that, “We do not have enough tools to help people with the pain conditions that they are suffering from now or in the future.”
Lynch said there are growing numbers of people struggling with chronic pain conditions as the population ages and medical science advances allow people to live longer despite injuries or illnesses that once would have killed them. Unfortunately, such illnesses or injuries leave them in chronic pain, often related to nerve damage.
“Two of the obvious ones are HIV, AIDS and some of the treatments required for that,” Lynch said. “Both the virus and the treatments cause nerve damage pain. And people with cancer have to have chemo and the chemo causes nerve damage pain. So we’ve got two of those cohorts growing.
“And, unfortunately, we haven’t found world peace yet, so many of those returning from the military front… there have been such great advances in medicine on the fronts that we are able to keep our brave soldiers alive but unfortunately they are often quite damaged when they get home.”
The need to treat these populations has driven her research program, she said.
“So the second piece of that was, my patients — this was probably close to 15-20 years ago — were telling us that they were using marijuana to help them with pain. And back then, when we first looked at it, about 15 per cent of our patients were telling us this. That was both in our pain clinic and in the MS clinic locally. People were using cannabinoids to help them with symptoms like pain and spasticity.
“So I started looking into the literature and found out that there was already a very solid base of pre-clinical literature in animal science telling us that there was a sophisticated endocannabinoid system built into our bodies that we can take advantage of and exploit for the treatment of pain and inflammation,” Lynch said.
Cannabinoids are essentially chemicals that act upon receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is part of the body’s pain and inflammation defence system.
According to Panag Pharma’s website, there are two main receptors in this system. The CB1 receptors in the nervous system produce the high associated with marijuana when activated. The CB2 receptors in the immune system help with pain and inflammation but do not produce the high.
“And so then we embarked on a research program,” Lynch said.
The research continued and the Panag group incorporated in 2014.
“So we have that collaboration working on developing specific formulations,” Lynch said.
Panag’s topical cream to treat pain and inflammation, called simply Topical AOTC for now, is currently in clinical trials with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, led by Dr. Karim Muhkida.
“We have natural health products and we have patents. We’ve got an ocular patent and we’ve got another patent submitted. And we’ve got other natural health products submitted. So we’ve got a whole sort of suite of formulations that we are developing for various pain and inflammatory conditions.”
Topical AOTC has a natural health product number and is already approved for sale. Panag is in the process of working with potential collaborators with more experience in marketing and distribution.
The active cannabinoids in Topical AOTC are not sourced from the cannabis plant so it can be sold over the counter and the cream will not produce a high.
“That’s how we were able to get a natural health product number on it…. It comes from a number of things. The main active is in pepper, cinnamon, cloves and other sort of more spicy kinds of things. And then it’s also got some capsaicin in it, which is from hot peppers.”
It works by keying the system that’s already in place in the body.
Even though the current products are based on other cannabinoid sources besides marijuana, Lynch said the research group is definitely interested in and already researching cannabis-based sources, too.
She expects Topical AOTC will be widely available sometime in 2018. In her experience, it “absolutely” works. Among the new products Panag is working on is a topical eye drop to relieve dry eyes and eye pain from inflammation and other conditions.