Move over, morphine. Someday, we may be turning to carnivorous snails for our pain-killing needs, a study suggests. Australian researchers have found that a drug made using venom from ocean-dwelling cone snails may be 100 times as powerful as top painkillers morphine and gabapentin, which are currently used to ease chronic nerve pain born from injury, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases, AFP reports. What's more, the drug, based on peptides called conotoxins that reside in the snails' venom, is thought not to have the addictive properties of other painkillers, the Sydney Morning Herald notes.
So far, though, the drug has been tested only on rats. "We don't know about side effects yet, as it hasn't been tested in humans. But we think it would be safe," says lead researcher David Craik. A test on people is at least two years off, he notes; still, the finding could lead to 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"—and one taken orally. Another drug made from conotoxin is already approved for use on humans, but it requires spinal cord injection. (Meanwhile, a painkiller that one expert says "will kill as soon as it's released" is slated to hit shelves this month.)