A new study conducted at the University of Texas may provide a first step towards developing a new medication for neuropathic pain.
Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve malfunction or nerve damage. There are few effective treatments for this type of pain since it is generally a chronic condition where nerve signals are malfunctioning without an identifiable anatomic cause.
The compound researched, MDA19, is a synthetic cannabinoid with similar properties to the active ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana acts on the body by activating certain chemical receptors which produce changes in motor activity, pain perception, as well as psychological changes. Cannabinoid treatments have had positive results as a treatment for neuropathic pain, but have a large amount of controversy due to the mental side effects such as decreased ability for learning, thinking, problem solving, coordination, and increased paranoia, panic attacks, or anxiety.
There are two types of cannabinoid receptor chemical receptors, CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors are found in the brain and have been shown to produce psychological changes and impair motor function. CB2 receptors are found mostly in the peripheral immune system and to a lesser extent in the central nervous system and have been shown to produce analgesic and pain-reducing effects.
MDA19 was designed to increase activity for CB2 receptors and was tested thoroughly after preliminary tests showed positive results. When the drug was tested in human cells, CB2 activity was four times greater than CB1 activity. The proceeding mouse study showed an even larger difference between CB1 and CB2 activity.
The benefits of developing this type of drug would be to have the pain-reducing effects of cannabinoids without the alterations to motor activity or psychological functions associated with marijuana.
These preliminary results will require further research before human testing would begin for any potential medication that acts on the CB2 receptor.