Synthetic cannabis could be used to treat the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis, the results of a new study are suggesting.
A team of scientists at the University of Nottingham say they have developed a synthetic compound capable of inhibiting the cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), a pain-sensing pathway located in the spinal cord.
The new compound, called JWH133, is a wholly synthetic cannabinoid molecule manufactured in a laboratory that selectively targets CB2.
Research suggests the CB2 receptor is present in human spinal cord tissue, at levels related to the severity of oesteoarthritis pain.
Scientists believe this is evidence that JWH133 may combat osteoarthritis pain in humans.
Prof Victoria Chapman, who led the study, said: "This finding is significant, as spinal and brain pain signalling pathways are known to make a major contribution to pain associated with osteoarthritis.
“These new data support the further evaluation of the selective cannabinoid-based interventions for the treatment of osteoarthritis pain.”
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: "Millions of people are living with the severe, debilitating pain caused by osteoarthritis, and better pain relief is urgently needed.
"This research does not support the use of recreational cannabis use. What it does suggest is that there is potential to develop a synthetic drug that mimics the behaviour of cannabinoid receptors without causing serious side effects."
More than 8.5 million people in the UK have osteoarthritis, and the NHS performs over 140,000 hip and knee replacement surgeries annually across England and Wales. It most commonly effects people over the age of 50 and is more prevalent in women than men. There is currently no cure.
There is no effective drug treatment to slow the progression of the condition, but interventions include pain relief, exercise, physiotherapy, weight loss and joint replacement.
Additional reporting by Press Association