Opioid Withdrawal Treatment: Finding New Roads

Opioids/opiates have provided significant and sometimes life-saving relief to countless patients. They remain some of the strongest painkillers available and can be especially helpful in rendering comfort in otherwise extremely painful terminal illnesses. Opioids work by activating opioid receptors located in the brain, which are densely located in emotion-controlling areas that process pain. Unfortunately, prolonged or extreme use of opioids can lead to dependence, or the body adjusting by limiting natural opioid production and therefore resulting in the body physiologically needing increasing amounts of external opioids to function properly. However, aside from practical issues, high doses of opioids can lead to respiratory failure, death, and other serious health consequences, which means that for all but terminally ill users, opioid withdrawal will eventually occur. Withdrawal is not only unpleasant physically and psychologically (depression, lack of appetite, diarrhea), but potentially life-threatening. In fact, withdrawal is so severe that it can sometimes prevent patients from ending opiate use, causing a downward spiral. As a result, modern doctors are cautious to prescribe opioids and usually seek to wean patients off opioids through slowly decreasing prescriptions. Perhaps more concerning though, aside from medical patients, roughly 4.3 million people in the US alone are currently non-medical users of narcotic pain relievers. Drugs like heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc. are all opiate-based drugs that are frequently abused for the recreational high. Meanwhile, even drugs intended to wean opiate use, such as buprenorphine, are commonly sold and traded. To date, only compounds that directly activate opioid receptors have been…

Cannabinoid Receptors Affect How Your Eyes “See”

Culturally, cannabis is known as a substance that heightens the senses; musicians and concert-goers often use cannabis to increase sensitivity to music, and anyone who has experienced “the munchies” can attest to a heightened sense of taste. For a long time we’ve known that our body’s own endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in eyesight. This phenomenon is less discussed, but none-the-less very real, with cannabinoid receptor agonists (like cannabis) and antagonists (like Rimonabant) both causing changes in eyesight. In fact, injections of antagonists into the eye have been observed to lead to unstable and incorrect retinofugal projection, which is essentially the connection between the optic nerve and the brain. Clearly cannabinoid receptors play an essential role in vision. Of course, this is not very surprising to researchers who understand the layout of the endocannabinoid system. Type 1 cannabinoid receptors (CB1 receptors) are “highly expressed in many structures involved in the processing of visual information”, such as the retina, superior colliculus, lateral geniculate nucleus, and most importantly, the primary visual cortex. To date, most studies involving the endocannabinoid system and eyesight occur during development phases rather than adult organisms. As a result, researchers from the University of Montreal created a new study to establish the differences in vision between adult mice with cannabinoid receptors and those without (specifically CB1 receptors). To create adult mice without CB1 receptors, researchers deleted the CB1 gene from the mouse DNA before birth. This procedure is known as creating “knockout” mice. In this particular study,…

Using the Endocannabinoid System to Track Different Types of Tissue

One of the most important concepts that our blog can communicate to readers is that cannabis is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the endocannabinoid system. This chemical system, that happens to respond to cannabis, was not merely an afterthought in the evolution of the human body, but actually exists in many different animals as well (including birds!). Thanks to the resurgence in cannabis and cannabinoid research around the globe, new uses for the system are constantly emerging. So far, the scientific community has shown most interest in direct uses of the endocannabinoid system to formulate new medicines for stress, pain, neuroprotective effects, and metabolism. However, researchers in Finland have identified a new use of the system…as a biomarker! Biomarkers are any indicators used to track and identify the existence of a biological state or condition. While that sounds complicated, many readers may have already benefitted from the use of biomarkers during medical procedures or checkups. For instance, those with chronic heart problems may already be familiar with the “nuclear stress test”. In this test, doctors are attempting to see how blood is being pumped through the body and which areas are not receiving enough blood during vigorous exercise or cardiac stress. Unfortunately, attempting to crack open a patient’s chest to view this directly would be dangerous, time-consuming, and costly. Additionally, even with the chest open, the doctor would have no quantifiable way to measure blood-flow in each small area. To solve this, doctors often inject…