Chronic pain has become a public health issue of epic proportion. 38 million adults in the USA suffer chronic pain according to the ABC News poll.
A study on pain control from Oregon Health and Science University suggests a new way of cannabinoid pain relief. The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience asking, can cannabinoids replace painkillers?
Scientists research cannabinoid pain relief in the hope of replacing addictive painkillers
OPB FM spoke to one of the authors, Susan Ingram, about the study done on rodents. The scientists looked into the workings of endocannabinoids, naturally found in the body of mammals, and how they might relieve chronic pain.
Endocannabinoids are molecules produced in the body, and form a communication system between the brain and body regulating many important functions. These cannabinoids and the pathways they interact with, form a system. The parts work together in ways which researchers are only just beginning to understand. Mood, memory, sleep, appetite and pain regulation are all affected by the endocannabinoid system
The best-known receptors of these cannabinoids are known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1receptors were first discovered in 1988 and CB2 in 1993. CB1 receptors are found throughout the body while CB2 receptors are believed to be confined to the lymph and immune system. These receptors are thought to be an important go-between in the process of suppressing pain and inflammation.
Endocannabinoids and pain
The endocannabinoid system is active in the control of pain. Scientists believe the dopamine blocking actions of THC may also contribute to its analgesic benefits.
It has been postulated that a deficiency of endocannabinoids may lead to certain conditions becoming untreatable, for instance, migraine sufferers have reduced anandamide (bliss molecule) levels.
In this study, Ingram says they found that the activity of CB1 receptors, associated with addiction and THC were decreased and CB2 receptor activity was increased, which can decrease pain. She says cannabis activates CB1 and CB2 receptors equally.
Ingram says this study confirms the possibility of developing a new synthetic pharmaceutical to provide effective pain relief without causing addiction.
With one-third of Americans suffering chronic pain at some stage of their life, opioids used to reduce that pain has turned out to be highly addictive. This has lead to the opioid epidemic, overdose deaths and to an upsurge in heroin addiction.
Resistance to opioids leads to heroin
People build a resistance to painkillers and prescriptions run out often before they are eligible for the next batch. The withdrawal, coupled with the pain they then have to deal with, drives them to the streets looking for an alternative. In the end, the solution to pain often turns out to be heroin, because it is less expensive than “black market” painkillers.
Cannabinoid pain relief could make the difference
Cannabinoid pain relief may be the answer to the opioid epidemic, and since cannabis has never killed anyone, it will provide a safer alternative to opioids. Other studies report that opioid use declined in US states with medical cannabis programs, so cannabis may well be the painkiller of the future.