Tramadol in plants and environment of Cameroon is anthropogenic

October 30, 2015
Tramadol in plants and environment of Cameroon is anthropogenic

Tramadol, a synthetic opioid component of the painkiller tramal, was surprisingly identified in 2013 as a natural product of Sarcocephalus latifolia, a tree found in Cameroon. Scientists from Germany and Cameroon now refute this finding in the journal Angewandte Chemie. By determination of the 14C content, for example, they established that the tramadol found in plants is in fact anthropogenic and introduced by off-label use of the drug. Serious health and environmental problems may occur as a consequence.

In Northern Cameroon, tramadol is used less as a pain reliever or antidepressant but rather as a doping agent to allow both animals and humans to work in temperatures above 40 °C during the . Contaminated soil and water samples were therefore not surprising. Or does tramadol come from trees? A team headed by Michael Spiteller has now conclusively answered this question. By using the radiocarbon method usually used for age determination, the researchers proved that the tramadol in Cameroon's environment is of synthetic origin. If the tramadol had recently been produced by a plant, it would mirror the current 14C content in our atmosphere. Industrially produced organic molecules made from fossil-fuel-derived starting materials contain no 14C because it has long since decayed. The tramadol found in the environmental samples investigated was free of 14C and is therefore unambiguously synthetic. A further piece of evidence is that the Sarcocephalus latifolius plants that the researchers grew from seeds from a botanical collection contained no tramadol. However, if the plants were grown with tramadol-containing water, the plants took up the drug without metabolizing it further.

In order to evaluate the persistence of tramadol in the environment and the extent of its misuse, Spiteller and his co-workers from the TU Dortmund and the University of Maroua (Cameroon) tested the tramadol content of soils, groundwater, surface water, and well water, as well as S. latifolius. In some cases, these tests revealed alarmingly high concentrations, even in other than S. latifolia. High concentrations of tramadol and one of its powerful metabolites were found in public wells. "We found particularly high levels of contamination in the dry season when water levels were low in a river bed in downtown Maroua in North Cameroon," says Spiteller. "This area is inhabited by many homeless people, who use the contaminated for drinking."

"Now that we have provided unambiguous proof that the environment in Cameroon is significantly contaminated with synthetic tramadol, urgent measures must be taken to reduce the off-label use of tramadol," states Spiteller. This requires the prohibition of street-market sales of prescription drugs. "In addition, further research is needed to assess the long-term side effects of in humans, animals, and the environment."

Explore further: Drug interaction identified for ondansetron, tramadol

More information: Souvik Kusari et al. Synthetic Origin of Tramadol in the Environment, Angewandte Chemie International Edition (2015). DOI: 10.1002/anie.201508646

Related Stories

Drug interaction identified for ondansetron, tramadol

December 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—In the early postoperative period, ondansetron is associated with increased requirements for tramadol consumption, according to a review and meta-analysis published online Dec. 10 in Anaesthesia.

An analgesic molecule discovered in its natural state in Africa

September 26, 2013

A team of researchers led by Michel De Waard, Inserm Research Director at the Grenoble Institute of Neurosciences (Inserm, University Joseph Fourier, CNRS), has discovered that an African medicinal plant produces large quantities ...

Study sheds light on pain pill abuse

September 26, 2012

A study by a team of University of Kentucky researchers has shed new light on the potential habit-forming properties of the popular pain medication tramadol, in research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The ...

Recommended for you

New X-ray spectroscopy explores hydrogen-generating catalyst

November 22, 2017

Using a newly developed technique, researchers from Japan, Germany and the U.S. have identified a key step in production of hydrogen gas by a bacterial enzyme. Understanding these reactions could be important in developing ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.