She’s Never Felt Pain or Anxiety and Heals Like a Superhero. It’s FAAH-OUT

Would you believe me if I told you a sort of “Wonder Woman” has been living on the shores of Loch Ness for 71 years…and for some reason, even though scores of amateur sleuths have been combing that area looking for something else out-of-the-ordinary, nobody ever noticed?

It sounds like something out of science fiction or fantasy, but it’s not. It’s actual science.

With the March 2019 publication of her case in the British Journal of Anaesthesia the remarkable story of Jo Cameron hit the media, including a New York Times profile filled astonishing details.

  • She gave birth without ever experiencing discomfort and described the experience as “a tickle.”
  • She has never required pain medication in her life, despite having undergone hand surgery and a hip replacement
  • Fractures, cuts, and burns sustained over her lifetime never caused her distress or pain, healed extraordinarily quickly, and rarely resulted in scars (including burns that often resulted in her smelling burning flesh before she could move her body parts out of harm’s way)
  • She consumed scotch bonnet peppers—with a Scoville heat index measurement hotter even than cayenne pepper—and reported experiencing only a “warm glow”

One of the physicians treating Jo Cameron after her hand surgery noted her remarkable pain tolerance and hypothesized something in her genetic makeup may be responsible. He referred her to to specialists studying the biology of pain. That’s when the source of Jo’s “superpowers” emerged: a novel mutation on a gene called FAAH, which researchers (naturally!) immediately named FAAH-OUT.

FAAH, a protein, breaks down anandamide (also known as the “bliss molecule”) which binds to the human body’s cannabinoid receptors—some of the same receptors activated by the the active pain-controlling components (cannabinoids) in marijuana.

While researchers have identified other patients who share similar conditions, and Ms. Cameron’s son shares at least one of the mutations that reduce her experience of pain, to date no other patients with precisely her genetic imperviousness to pain have been profiled.

Ms. Cameron’s lifetime of accelerated-healing and zero pain has had a remarkable side effect; simply put, she lives without fear, panic, or anxiety.

All of these factors, taken together, have caused understandable and unprecedented optimism among drug development researchers and event those closer to home in Loch Ness.

Dr. Dev Srivastava was a consulting physician who was brought in to speak with Ms. Cameron after local doctors finally began to piece together remarkable lifetime of accelerated healing, freedom from pain, and zero anxiety. In STAT news, he expressed his highest hopes:  “This discovery opens up numerous possibilities of developing drugs using the endocannabinoid pathway to modify how pain is experienced…This could be developed into a wonder drug to treat surgical patients or those with cancer or chronic pain.”

Still, while a totally pain-free life may sound appealing, freedom from pain does involve drawbacks. Children with different genetic mutations that limit their ability to experience pain frequently injure themselves (sometimes severely) without realizing it. That’s because pain is a feedback system that teaches us what to avoid as we grow up, helping us to navigate the world; in that way, the anxiety and fear associated with pain are adaptive. Likewise, diabetic neuropathy short-circuits pain receptors in the extremities, sparing the sensation of injury, but not the actual consequences of an injury.

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