Researchers in Nigeria have found a natural painkiller from an extract of the poisonous shrub Jatropha curcas, which has a mode of action different from conventional analgesics, such as morphine and other pharmaceuticals.
J.curcas, also known as the ‘physic nut’, is a perennial shrub that grows to five meters in height and belongs to the Euphobiaceace family. It is native to Central America but grows widely in Africa and Asia.
The plant fruit is combined with the stem bark of Cochlospermum planchonii for treating diabetes and is also used traditionally as a painkiller.
The plant”s seeds have been used for making soap, candles, detergents, lubricants and dyes and the seed oil is used in biodiesel.
Omeh Yusuf and Ezeja Maxwell of the Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture in Umudike, Nigeria, extracted what they believed to be the physiologically active components of the leaves of J. curcas using methanol as solvent.
They compared the effects of this extract at 100, 200 and 400 mg per kg of body mass, against 400 mg/kg of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) in standard laboratory animal tests for assessing the strength of painkillers.
They found that 100 mg/kg was an inadequate dose, however, 200 and 400 mg/kg doses produced analgesia comparable to aspirin, affirming the use of the plant for pain relief in traditional medicine.
The team suspects that the extract may be acting through both peripheral and central pain mechanisms.
Yusuf and Maxwell are now carrying out more work on isolating and characterizing the active ingredient in the extract and in determining the precise mode of action.
Details of tests are reported in the current issue of the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology.