Synthesized Pufferfish Neurotoxin Could Serve As Opioid Replacement

Synthesized Pufferfish Neurotoxin Could Serve As Opioid Replacement

We know, that headline is a little…fishy.

But, a new study published earlier this year suggests that scientists may be able to synthesize an opioid replacement from the very-cute-but-also-deadly pufferfish.

You may have heard of Fugu, an extravagant Japanese delicacy prepared from the highly toxic blowfish (blowfish, pufferfish; same thing).

Fugu is considered one of the world’s 10 deadliest foods because it contains a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. Even a 1mg dose, about the size of a pinhead, is enough to kill a person.

And, of course, humans eat it regularly.

It is relatively safe to eat, but only when prepared correctly by an extremely well-trained, and very brave, chef.

The dish is said to give the taster a euphoric, tingling sensation. That’s because tetrodotoxin is a nerve toxin that blocks neurological impulses from being sent between cells — a property that it shares with opioids.

So, why is a deadly fish toxin a better alternative to opioids?

Because, as far as scientists can tell, there is no addiction associated with tetrodotoxin. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect and actually reduces patients’ cravings for other harmful substances. 

A team of Japanese researchers first synthesized parts of the neurotoxin in 2017 and clinical trials showed that it is very effective for pain management. 

Now, the same team has had a breakthrough that could lead to easier production, research, and eventually, large scale production.