Let’s be real, Indiana hasn’t exactly been the brightest star on the flag as of late. Their walking corpse of a governor, Mike Pence, who arrived in a time machine from 1535, is now the Vice President-elect; last year the state passed the Religious Freedom Law, which makes it legal for a business to refuse to serve gay customers; the state also recently experienced a huge spike in HIV rates when Pence refused to provide clean needles to intravenous drug users (and then initially attempted to counter the disaster with prayer).
But this past week, researchers from Indiana University, speaking at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, reclaimed some dignity for their home state and delivered some interesting news: they had discovered a compound that triggers the brain’s cannabinoid receptors…without the use of either cannabis or opioids. The breakthrough could provide relief to the millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain who turn, in alarmingly high numbers, to prescriptions painkillers. And while cannabis remains a viable alternative to those painkillers, the new discovery claims to provide more consistent, and longer-lasting, relief.
The compounds in question are called positive allosteric modulators, or PAMs, and they work by binding to a cannabinoid receptor in the brain called CB1. The IU crew studied PAM’s effect on mice, who were given paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug known to damage nerves and cause pain. After receiving the drug, the mice became super sensitive to stimulated discomfort in their paws. But then, once the CB1 PAM was introduced, they appeared to STOP experiencing pain (and because the compound is connected to endocannabinoid receptors, not THC, they didn’t get high, either).
“The most exciting aspect of this research is the potential to produce the same therapeutic benefits as opioid-based pain relievers without side effects like addiction risk or increased tolerance over time,” said Andrea Hohmann, Ph.D, the IU professor in charge of the study. Although a consumer version of PAM CB1 won’t be available any time soon, the work done by the IU team still provides much-needed evidence that when scientists take cannabis seriously, the results can change lives.