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Mar 17, 2014 11:50 AM EDT

Snail Venom As A Potential Solution To Addicting Pain Killers


The venom of earth's more exotic and dangerous creatures has long been used as medicine. Though snails aren't typically thought of as a source, one type, the cone snail, injects its prey with paralyzing poison 100 times as powerful (in terms of numbing pain) as morphine and gabapentin without the addictive qualities, according to the NY Daily News.

As a potential pain killer, cone snail venom is still in the early stages of trials (humans aren't expected as subjects for another two years), but results have so far been promising, according to lead researcher David Craik of the University of Queensland in Australia.

"This is an important incremental step that could serve as the blueprint for the development of a whole new class of drugs capable of relieving one of the most severe forms of chronic pain that is currently very difficult to treat," said Craik.

Cone snails inject their prey (which include small fish, mollusks, and other cone snails) to compensate for their otherwise slow movements and give them time to eat, according to the Daily News. The species is found throughout the world in tropical environments. In case you were wondering, they can sting humans and shouldn't be handled. Because of their bright shells, however, they sometimes are. Most of the time, a string is no worse than that of a bee. Larger varieties of the species -- of which there are thousands because of their many different shell types -- have actually killed people.

Venom from animals is appealing in general because it blocks pain receptors in more natural ways than synthetically made pain killers.

There may still be side effects, however, which could force scientists to manipulate the venom to the point where its natural properties are diminished. So far, none have been identified.

"We don't know about side effects yet, as it hasn't been tested in humans. But we think it would be safe," Craik said. 

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