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Arizona school says cannabis could treat cancer pain instead of opioids

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LISTEN: Arizona school says cannabis could treat cancer pain instead of opioids

PHOENIX — Cannabis could soon take the place of opioids in treating pain caused by breast cancer, the University of Arizona said.

Dr. Todd Vanderah said the replacement treatment is a chemical compound called a non-psychotropic cannabinoid. It’s found in plants from the cannabis family – which includes marijuana – but will not get the patient high because it works on different cell receptors.

“There are many different types [of cannabinoids],” Vanderah said.

“Many of these compounds will inhibit inflammation, they inhibit pain, they also, when given in combination with opiates, tend to reduce the amount of rewarding behavior that gets produced.”

In other words, Vanderah said, a combined cannabis-opioid treatment reduces the potential for addiction while relieving pain.

Vanderah has received funding for clinical trials, but a start date for those tests has not been set.

Vanderah also found that using cannabinoids for cancer-pain management slowed bone loss, unlike opioids.

“You don’t have bone loss in individuals that aren’t taking the opiates under chronic pain or inflammation,” he said. “People may be abusing opiates and we don’t see as much [bone loss].”

Studies so far have shown that cannabinoids slow the spread of brain and colon cancer in addition to breast cancer.

“It won’t kill the cancer cells off, but it slows the proliferation,” Vanderah said, adding that this finding was something of a delightful surprise.

“Now we’re trying to figure out how the cannabinoid slows the breast cancer proliferation.

“That’s one of those things I love about science: when we don’t expect something to happen and then we end up working another several years on a project that we thought would be done with one or two publications.”

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