Cannabinoids and opioids both produce analgesia through a G-protein-coupled mechanism that blocks the release of pain-propagating neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. However, high doses of these drugs, which may be required to treat chronic, severe pain, are accompanied by undesirable side effects. Thus, a search for a better analgesic strategy led to the discovery that delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive constituent of marijuana, enhances the potency of opioids such as morphine in animal models. In addition, studies have determined that the analgesic effect of THC is, at least in part, mediated through delta and kappa opioid receptors, indicating an intimate connection between cannabinoid and opioid signaling pathways in the modulation of pain perception. A host of behavioral and molecular experiments have been performed to elucidate the role of opioid receptors in cannabinoid-induced analgesia, and some of these findings are presented below. The aim of such studies is to develop a novel analgesic regimen using low dose combinations of cannabinoids and opioids to effectively treat acute and chronic pain, especially pain that may be resistant to opioids alone.
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