Findings in a new study suggest that the chemical compounds found in cannabis could be effective at treating chronic pain while minimizing the risk of addiction.
Cannabis may provide a non-addictive and effective method for treating chronic pain, according to a new study out of Oregon Health and Science University. The research, published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience, adds more evidence to the argument that cannabis could serve as a safer pain management alternative to opioids.
Roughly 76.2 million, one in every four Americans, have suffered from chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health. Pain, the leading cause of disability, affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined.
Opioid prescriptions – including medications like Vicodin, Codeine, and OxyContin — have been most commonly recommended by doctors for treating chronic pain. While effective, opioids carry a high risk of addiction, abuse, and overdose. Over 40 Americans die every day from prescription drug abuse.
Cannabis has been previously shown to be effective at reducing several types of pain, including pain that had otherwise proven refractory to other treatments. Previous studies have indicated it could help address the nation’s opioid crisis. This new study serves as additional supporting evidence.
The researchers – Ming-Hua Li, Katherine L. Suchland, and Susan L. Ingram – used a rodent model to study cannabinoids and their interaction with the endocannabinoid system, a system comprised of receptors (CB1 and CB2), endocannabinoid molecules, and enzymes, that is responsible for managing several body functions, including pain response.
Researchers found that chronic inflammatory pain increased the activity of CB2 receptors and decreased activity of CB1 receptors.
“We found that CB1 receptors — the receptor that is associated with addictive properties of the drug — are decreased. But that CB2 receptor activity is increased. Cannabis actually activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors equally. But it’s known that CB2 receptors can decrease pain,” said Ingram.
The findings suggest that the selective activation of CB2 receptors while minimizing the activity of CB1 receptors could be beneficial for reducing pain and limiting tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Some of the cannabinoids found in cannabis have greater affinity at CB2 receptors and little affinity for CB1 receptors.
“It may be an avenue where we can get better pain medications that are not as addictive,” said Ingram, in a press release. “… Emerging data indicate that drugs that target the endocannabinoid system might produce analgesia with fewer side effects compared with opioids.”
Nearly all of the 28 U.S. states with medical marijuana laws have approved cannabis specifically for treating chronic pain.
You can access the entire study, “Compensatory activation of cannabinoid CB2 receptor inhibition of GABA release in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) in inflammatory pain,” via The Journal of Neuroscience. The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.