Is Cannabis More Effective Than Aspirin?

Exploring the science


The prohibited status of marijuana in the United States and scores of other nations around the world has hindered research into the plant. The vast majority of studies surrounding the herb relate to its 110+ cannabinoids and their possible effect on the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

In recent times, research has also looked at the effectiveness of terpenes. However, there are other compounds yet to be studied in any great depth. Flavonoids are a group of natural substances believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-oxidative properties. Aside from their presence in the marijuana plant, you can find flavonoids in other plants, fruits, vegetables, wine, flowers, and tea!

There have been many studies which have looked into the analgesic properties of cannabis. It has even been suggested that the plant could help reduce a person’s reliance on opioids as a painkiller. For a long time, the assumption has been that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are responsible for the plant’s potential painkilling properties. However, a recent study has shed new light into weed; most pertinently, the power of flavonoids.

Flavonoids – 30 Times More Effective Than Aspirin?

A study by Tariq Akhtar et al., published in the August 2019 edition of the Phytochemistry journal, discovered that two marijuana flavonoids, known as cannflavin A and cannflavin B, have enormous anti-inflammatory benefits.

While both flavonoids were discovered at the University of London in 1985, minimal research into their effects has ever been conducted – until now. According to Akhtar, the goal of the research was to gain a greater understanding of how the molecules are made. The team used a combination of biochemistry and genomics techniques to pinpoint the genes that created both cannflavins.

The study is the first time that researchers have found evidence of a unique genetic pathway in marijuana, which uses a pair of enzymes to create the two cannflavins. Unfortunately, cannflavin A and cannflavin B only make up a combined total of 0.014% of the cannabis plant’s weight. As a result, you would need to grow thousands of plants to have enough material to extract these compounds and their anti-inflammatory effects.

However, the research team may be able to engineer a version of this medicine with the aid of Anahit International Corp. According to Steven Rothstein, who also worked on the study, the researchers are working to create a biological system that will develop these molecules. Ultimately, the goal is to engineer massive quantities. Anahit will commercialize the application of the cannflavins, which will be available in a variety of application methods.

When cannflavins A and B were first identified over three decades ago, it was already known that they provided anti-inflammatory effects up to 30 times greater than what is provided by Aspirin on a gram-by-gram basis.

Sadly, the illegal status of weed around the world meant that research into the properties of its many compounds stalled. Now that the herb is legal in Canada, and genomics research is highly advanced, Tariq and his fellow researchers at the University of Guelph decided to analyze the plant to understand how marijuana biosynthesizes cannflavins.

According to Akhtar, it is a straightforward process in the modern era because there are numerous sequenced genomes easily available, including that of Cannabis sativa. Once you know what to look for, you can bring these genes back to life and find out how molecules such as the two cannflavins are assembled.

At present, the opioid epidemic is plaguing the United States with some estimates claiming that up to 130 people die every day in America due to opioid usage. These opioids are extremely addictive and become the drug of choice for people with chronic pain. They work by blocking the brain’s pain receptors but carry a laundry list of possible side effects. Cannflavins target pain in a different manner; through the reduction of inflammation.

Is Cannabis Safer Than Aspirin?

Acetylsalicylic acid, better known as Aspirin, is a medication used to treat inflammation, fever, or pain. It is believed that the leaves from the willow tree have been used as an aspirin-type medicine for over 2,400 years. In 1899, Bayer Pharmaceuticals named acetylsalicylic acid as ‘aspirin’ and began selling it around the world.

It is one of the world’s most widely used medications, with anywhere from 50 to 120 billion pills consumed each year globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even named it as one of the safest and most effective medicines required in a health system. While it isn’t among the most prescribed medications in America (ranked #38 in 2016), around 19 million prescriptions are written for the drug in the U.S. each year.

With a WHO recommendation, surely aspirin is safe? Not so, if you are aged 75+ and try taking a low dose of it each day to prevent blood clots. According to an Oxford Vascular Study, conducted by Oxford University in the UK, older aspirin users are up to 10 times more likely to experience disabling or fatal gastrointestinal bleeding than younger users. In fact, daily aspirin use has been linked to thousands of deaths per annum!

Back in 2000, Dr. Leslie Iverson of Oxford University wrote a book called The Science of Marijuana. In it, he stated that marijuana was a ‘safe drug’ which does not lead to brain damage, infertility, mental illness, or cancer. Iverson said that weed was far less toxic than other drugs and had an impressive record when compared to cocaine and heroin, or ‘legal’ drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

Iverson pointed out that so-called ‘safe’ medicines such as aspirin were potentially deadly. He stated that thousands of people die each year because these drugs cause catastrophic gastric bleeding. This warning was made almost two decades ago, but few people have ever bothered to listen.

What Are Flavonoids?

It is genuinely interesting that the flavonoids in marijuana could be responsible for much of its anti-inflammatory properties, yet we know relatively little about this diverse group of plant chemicals. In reality, you will find these phytonutrients in almost all fruits and vegetables. Along with carotenoids, flavonoids are responsible for the colors in the fruit and vegetables we eat.

They are also the biggest group of phytonutrients with over 6,000 types! Flavonoids are believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A number of studies have found that the flavonoids found in the skin of citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and lemons, increase immune system activation.

Meanwhile, the most abundant flavonoid in apples, quercetin, modify inflammatory responses by inhibiting prostaglandin release. For the record, prostaglandin is an inflammatory compound that causes pain. Diets rich in foods containing flavonoids are associated with the prevention of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, not to mention cancer.

Flavonoids are actually part of the polyphenol class of phytonutrients and have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. There are several flavonoid groups, including:

  • Flavones
  • Flavanones
  • Anthocyanidins
  • Flavanols
  • Isoflavones
  • Flavanols

There are flavonoids available in supplement form and these could be useful if you don’t get enough fruit and vegetables in your diet. If you intend to increase your intake of plant-based foods, please note that the storage and cooking of these foods can alter their flavonoid content.

For instance, storing onions at room temperature for two weeks could result in them losing one-third of their flavonoid content. You could also lose up to 80% of a food’s flavonoids during the cooking process. As these compounds are usually concentrated in the outer areas of fruit and vegetables, especially in their skins, it is best if you don’t cut or damage the foods until you are ready to eat them.

Final Thoughts – Are Flavonoids the Future of Painkilling Medicine?

It has taken well over 30 years, but finally, the crucial findings by London University have been followed up. Thanks to the efforts of the research team at the University of Guelph, we know how the marijuana plant makes cannflavin A and cannflavin B, a pair of molecules up to 30 times better at reducing inflammation than Aspirin.

This knowledge may help us tackle the opioid crisis, which is claiming tens of thousands of lives in the United States each year. Unlike opioids, or even the THC in cannabis, these molecules don’t affect the mind, and they target pain directly. As a result, it could be possible to use cannflavins to develop a new class of painkiller that doesn’t have a high risk of addiction.

We already know that marijuana is being used to relieve pain and promote sleep. A study by Bachhuber et al., published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in July 2019, found that 88% of people who used marijuana as a painkiller were able to reduce or stop their prescription medication as a direct result of their cannabis use. However, not everyone is comfortable using weed to treat pain, so a non-psychoactive drug featuring cannflavins could become very popular indeed.

What this research also shows is that the marijuana plant has a lot of secrets waiting to be uncovered. We have focused so much on THC and CBD that the other cannabinoids in weed, along with terpenes and flavonoids, have been overlooked. It is about time this situation changed so that we get a more complete picture of what marijuana could do for us.