PORTLAND, Ore., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Oregon Health & Science University researchers have created a treatment method for chronic pain using cannabis without risk of addiction.
Chronic pain affects roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population. Opioid use and addiction has become an epidemic in the United States due to doctors over-prescribing opioid medications to treat chronic pain.
Researchers used a rodent model to study the function of two types of cell membrane receptors, called endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring in the body and bind cannabinoids.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of receptors, endocannabinoid molecules and enzymes to make and break down endocannabinoids in the brain and the central and peripheral nervous system.
"It may be an avenue where we can get better pain medications that are not addictive," Susan Ingram, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurosurgery in the OHSU School of Medicine and senior author of the study, said in a press release.
"However, emerging data indicate that drugs that target the endocannabinoid system might produce analgesia with fewer side effects compared to opioids."
Researchers examined the function of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 at the membrane level in neurons. Cannabis has the same activation effect on CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Results showed that chronic inflammatory pain increased the activity of CB2 receptors and decreased activity in CB1 receptors.
The research shows the potential to selectively activate CB2 receptors to increase the pain relieving benefit of cannabis while minimizing the activity of CB1, which induces tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.
The next step in the research is to study brain circuitry, which could lead to a new class of pain medications.
The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.