PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — For patients dealing with chronic pain, the cannabis ingredient cannabidiol CBD is quickly becoming a popular remedy. Advocates say this non-psychoactive substance can do everything from fight pain to ward off bacterial infections. Now, researchers at Temple University say a new drug derived from cannabis may be even better at reducing severe pain.
Study authors add the need for less harmful and less addictive pain relievers is reaching a critical point in America. These patients don’t just live with chronic pain, ineffective treatments and declining work productivity add up to give many people a feeling of hopelessness and anxiety. Researchers say this often leads to substance abuse disorders and an addiction to prescription opioids.
Estimates show around 18 million Americans misused prescription pain-killers in 2017 alone. Making matters worse, studies find opioids do a poor job of controlling pain over the long term.
CBD isn’t a perfect solution either
Although scientists are exploring the usefulness of CBD as an alternative, researchers say its ability to treat pain in humans is limited. This is due to low bioavailability, the range at which a drug can successfully reach the target site in the human body.
In the new report, study authors at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine find a CBD analog called KLS-13019 improves upon CBD’s pain fighting ability in animals like mice.
“In a mouse model of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), we’ve been able to show for the first time that KLS-13019 works as well as, if not better than, CBD in preventing the development of neuropathy and reversing pain sensitivity after pain has been established,” says Sara Jane Ward, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, in a university release.
Researchers say KLS-13019, developed by the bio-pharmaceutical company Neuropathix, Inc., is more potent than CBD and has greater bioavailability in animal studies. Dr. Ward and her team examined the drug’s performance on mice with CIPN.
In humans, CIPN is a common side-effect of cancer treatments which damage peripheral nerves. Patients experience severe pain as these nerves carry sensory information to the arms, legs, and brain. These sensations can also manifest themselves as tingling or burning feelings or numbness in the limbs.
In multiple experiments, researchers gauged the animals’ pain after treatment with KLS-13019 or CBD. Results show pain sensitivity reduced significantly using either cannabis-derived substance. However, KLS-13019 reversed painful stimuli to an even greater degree in animals suffering from peripheral neuropathy. Researchers did not see the same results in animals taking CBD.
Could cannabis pain relievers also curb harmful addictions?
Previous studies point to CBD having the ability to reduce opioid cravings in patients dealing with substance abuse.
“Many patients who use opioids for pain management enter a cycle of reinforcement, where each use of opioids triggers reward pathways and perceived pain relief, leading to addiction,” Dr. Ward explains.
The new study did not find evidence which supports this theory among animals taking CBD, but researchers did observe less opioid-seeking behavior in mice taking KLS-13019.
“This tells us that KLS-13019 has benefits beyond its ability to alleviate pain,” Dr. Ward concludes.
Dr. Ward’s team plans to explore how KLS-13019 exerts these effects on patients. Particularly, researchers will examine how the drug disrupts addictive behavior and see if it can relieve other causes of pain.
The study appears in the British Journal of Pharmacology.