Taking the two substances together could reduce the risk of dependency on opioids and minimize cognitive problems.Combining marijuana and opioid painkillers could be a safer way to address pain, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio recently found evidence indicating that using the two together allows patients to effectively manage pain while lowering their intake of opioids, thereby reducing the risk that they’ll become addicted to the painkillers.
“These data provide additional evidence supporting the notion that opioid-cannabinoid mixtures that are effective for treating pain do not have greater, and in some cases have less, adverse effects compared with larger doses of each drug alone,” Vanessa Minervini, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the U-T Health Science Center, said in a press release.
Opioids are a class of narcotic drugs commonly prescribed by physicians for treating pain. The powerful drugs act on the nervous system, reducing pain messages sent to the brain. While effective, opioids are highly addictive, can slightly impair cognition, and carry a risk of fatal overdose because of how they interact with receptors in the brain.
Marijuana, legally available for pain treatment in a majority of U.S. states, can also elicit temporary side effects like impaired cognition, but has never caused a fatal overdose.
While earlier findings have indicated that pain relief is enhanced with opioids and marijuana are used together, a growing concern among some researchers was that taking the two would magnify their respective side effects.
But the new study by Minervini and her colleagues found that wasn’t the case. Combining opioids with marijuana did not significantly increase impulsivity or memory impairment.
In the study, rhesus monkeys were given “moderate doses” of morphine and CP55940, a synthetic drug that works similarity to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the well-known intoxicating compound naturally found in marijuana. They then had their impulsivity and memory assessed.