The deadly venom of one of the most feared snakes in Africa apparently contains a painkiller that could rival morphine, but without the side effects, according to French scientists.
The black mamba, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and reportedly the second-largest snake on the continent, unleashes a neurotoxic poison that attacks its victim's nerves and shuts down major organs.
Without an antidote, a human being likely would be dead in six hours.
In a study reported in the journal Nature, researchers at the National Center for Scientific Research said they'd found mambalgins - pain-killing proteins - in the snake's venom.
They'd examined 50 different species of snakes before the black mamba discovery, which has been tested on mice.
"The analgesia was as strong as morphine," Dr. Eric Linguieglia of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology told the BBC, "but you don't have most of the side effects."
Though highly effective in eradicating pain, morphine is known to cause headaches, vomiting and other symptoms. It is also addictive.
In the mice, the black mamba's proteins reportedly targeted pain differently than morphine, whose path through the brain can cause nausea.
Dr. Michael Roizen, an internist and anesthesiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told ABC News that if the mambalgins were able to relieve patients of severe pain without the side effects associated with other therapies like morphine, "it would be a major advancement."
"It's a new avenue, a new approach to therapies," he said today. "You'd love it to work."
He cautioned, as the study's authors did, that the research was still in its very early stages.