French scientists believe that they have discovered a natural painkiller in human saliva that could be six times stronger than morphine. The substance, known as opiorphin, acts on the same pain-killing pathways as morphine and other opiates, but not much else is known about it, according to researcher Catherine Rougeot of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The next step, she says, is to determine where in the body the substance is produced, what conditions trigger the release of the chemical, and how the discovery might lead to improved pain medications.
The body's own opioid response:
- The discovery was made after researchers identified a powerful pain-inhibiting molecule in rats. In the study, opiorphin appeared to be equally effective against chemical-induced inflammation and acute physical pain.
- “Opiorphin is natural, so it is quickly metabolized," Rougeot explained, adding that, if fully developed, it might become more effective than existing painkillers.
- The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.