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A study has highlighted the benefits of a new type of drug which could relieve pain in a similar way to cannabis, but without affecting the brain.
Cannabis use activates cannabinoid receptors called CB2, which are present in human sensory nerves in the peripheral nervous system, but are not present in a normal human brain.
The new study, led by researchers from Imperial College London, have found that drugs which activate the CB2 receptors are able to block pain by stopping pain signals being transmitted in human sensory nerves.
Previous studies have mainly focused on the other receptor activated by cannabis use, known as CB1, which was believed to be the primary receptor involved in pain relief.
However, because CB1 receptors are present in the brain, taking drugs which activate these receptors can lead to side-effects such as drowsiness, dependence and psychosis.
Lead researcher Praveen Anand said: “Although cannabis is probably best known as an illegal recreational drug, people have used it for medicinal purposes for centuries. Queen Victoria used it in tea to help with her period pains, and people with a variety of conditions say that it helps alleviate their symptoms.
“Our new study is very promising because it suggests that we could alleviate pain by targeting the cannabinoid receptor CB2 without causing the kinds of side-effects we associate with people using cannabis itself.”
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