Scientists at Temple University in Philadelphia have discovered that novel CBD analog KLS-13019 may work better than CBD in reducing pain in animals and potentially help reduce opioid-seeking behaviour.

Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at the Katz School of Medicine and senior investigator on the new study Sara Jane Ward said: “In a mouse model of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), we’ve been able to show for the first time that KLS-13019 works as well as, if not better than, CBD in preventing the development of neuropathy and reversing pain sensitivity after pain has been established.”

Developed by Pennsylvania-based bio-pharmaceutical and phyto-medical company Neuropathix, KLS-13019 is among the most promising neuroprotective CBD analogs currently under investigation. In previous work in cell models, it was found to be more potent than CBD, and studies in animals suggested it had improved bioavailability.

Encouraged by those findings, the research team set out to better understand the pain-relieving capabilities of KLS-13019, relative to CBD, in animals with CIPN.

CIPN is a common side effect of certain cancer treatments that damage peripheral nerves carrying sensory information to the arms, legs, and brain. The severe pain, or peripheral neuropathy, caused by CIPN manifests in different ways in human patients but frequently involves tingling or burning sensations and numbness, weakness, or discomfort in the limbs.

In a series of experiments designed to gauge animals’ pain responses, the researchers found pain sensitivity was greatly reduced in animals with CIPN treated with KLS-13019 or CBD. KLS-13019 further reversed sensitivity to painful stimuli in animals in which peripheral neuropathy was already established, an effect that was not observed in CBD-treated animals.

“This tells us that KLS-13019 has benefits beyond its ability to alleviate pain.”

Earlier studies have hinted at the possibility that CBD is able to reduce opioid craving in patients with opioid use disorder. While the team found no evidence supporting a role for CBD in reducing opioid craving, they did observe significantly reduced opioid-seeking behaviour in animals treated with KLS-13019.

“This tells us that KLS-13019 has benefits beyond its ability to alleviate pain,” Dr Ward said.

The researchers suspect that while likely sharing a mechanism with CBD for pain relief, KLS-13019 may have an additional mechanism of action that breaks up the pathways reinforcing opioid use.

The team now plan to explore the mechanisms by which KLS-13019 exerts its effects, particularly those underlying the drug’s ability to disrupt opioid-seeking behaviour and to test the ability of KLS-13019 to alleviate other types of pain beyond CIPN.

The findings were published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.