Resin spurge is the common name for an exotic plant called euphorbia resinifera, a cactus-like plant grown in Morocco. And rather than being an exotic disease — which it may phonetically conjure — it may well be a potential cure. Wired says that “this chemical is so hot it destroys nerve endings — in a good way.”
“But while that toxicity will lay up any mammal dumb enough to chew on the resin spurge, resiniferatoxin has also emerged as a promising painkiller. Inject RTX, as it’s known, into an aching joint, and it’ll actually destroy the nerve endings that signal pain. Which means medicine could soon get a new tool to help free us from the grasp of opioids.”
How hot does this plant have to be to kill nerve endings? It is 10,000 times hotter than the hottest pepper known to man and beast — the California Reaper. The spurge is 4.5 million times hotter than a traditional jalapeno pepper.
Used in an injectable form, it doesn’t just dull pain, or make sufferers forget about their pain, or cause them not to care about the pain which exists. It kills the nerve endings, flatly speaking. Best of all, it does so without any immediate side effects — at least any that have been discerned as yet.
Sufferers do not have to worry about drowsiness, sluggishness, dizziness, itchiness, cramps, or constipation from opioids.
Treatment is not quite that straightforward, however. Even as an injectable, the pain would be too much for many to bear. So it is delivered after anesthesia. The article continues with insight from Tony Yaksh, an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist at UC San Diego who has studied the potential for treatment.
“Patients are anesthetized for all of this, and treated with short-term painkillers when they wake… That seems to get them over the worst of it, and then over the next few hours it subsides until the point where they don’t feel the pain any longer.”
This technique has already been tried on dogs, with positive results. It has provided pain relief for a period of time ranging from five months to 18 months.
Researchers are looking beyond joint pain relief to something more generalized, as would be required for potential cancer patients. Injected into the fluid around the spinal column, treatment with resin spurge could potentially deal with pain wherever it happens to be in the body.
When, and if, the treatment becomes widely available, it will not be for minor pain like runner’s knee, instead serving as an option for major pain conditions. That said, this avenue of treatment opens the door to future solutions that may one day eliminate the need for hard drugs their attendant side effects.