The Painkillers of the Future

It’s the Year 2017. Why hasn’t medical science developed a serious, real, safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids to relieve chronic pain--I'm including the pain caused by rheumatoid disease? Well, as it turns out, scientists and researchers all over the world are busy as bees, working on the problem.

Take a gander below at a few possible new drugs or pain-relieving modalities currently on the scientific research worktable.

The Re-design

In Berlin, Germany, scientists at the Freie Universität and the Zuse Institut are working on a chemical re-design of the traditional opioid Fentanyl. The idea is to rework the drug so that it targets only areas in the body where inflammation exists. In traditional formulations, opioids bind to certain receptors throughout the brain and body. The painful area you take the drug to treat just happens to be part of their overall scope. This is—at least—inefficient. It’s like taking a full shower to wash off a single, small patch of dirt on your forearm.

Since inflammation and pain originate at the site of injury, this re-designed drug would only target that area and leave the rest of the body untouched.

Such a drug might alleviate the well-known, adverse side-effects of traditional opioids like Fentanyl: sedation, respiratory depression, dependence, and in some cases, addiction. By targeting only the inflamed area for pain relief, these side-effects might be avoided.

The computer model seemed to work well, so the scientists tested the re-designed drug on rats. Once again, it worked, though only on pain in which inflammation was also present.

Would a drug like this relieve RD pain as well as opioids without risking their sometimes-dangerous side-effects? Maybe. It’s an exciting step forward.

Green Light Stops Pain

Researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson, showed that rats with an experimental nerve injury felt less pain after exposure to green light for eight hours a day for five days.

The green light caused the release of pain-relieving, natural, endogenous opioids in the rats’ brains. Rats exposed to sunlight, fluorescent light, white light, or darkness for the same amount of time didn’t experience any relief from their pain.

Green light as a pain-relieving therapy has a long way to go before it’s a “thing,” including far more study and human trials. Will people in pain exposed to green light find their pain relieved, just as the rats did? Let’s hope so.

While we wait, though, surely it can’t hurt to spend some extra time with all things green. Gaze at your houseplants or wander your garden! Spend some time in a green park beneath the trees. Paint your living space pale green and decorate with green accents. Eat salads! Enjoy all things green—and relax.

The Cannabis of the Brain

As more states legalize marijuana (Cannabis sativa) for medical and/or recreational use, more and more RD patients are turning to it to relieve their chronic joint pain. Many find cannabis effective for pain relief but decide not to use it because of its side-effects, such as the “high” many strains of the plant cause, somnolence, and among those who’re always fighting weight gain, the notorious munchies.

Recently, however, researchers at Indiana University, Bloomington discovered a way to boost the pain-relieving properties of endocannabinoids (the brain’s natural, marijuana-like signaling molecules that fight pain from injury) in mice. Not only do they relieve pain—they do it without those pesky Cannabis sativa side-effects.

I won’t attempt to get into the scientific weeds, here. (Heh!) Simply: the researchers created a specific substance that stimulates the release of endocannabinoids in the brain—and when it was tested on mice to relieve pain, it worked.

The results of their tests were only just presented last November, so the researchers are continuing their work on this exciting and promising new way to relieve pain. It might someday replace more dangerous drugs on our list of potent, efficient—and now safe—analgesics.

And More to Come …

The above are just a few of many new pain-relieving drugs and alternative pain-relieving modalities we may see one day in the not-so-distant future. Others include the use of virtual reality as a potent distraction from chronic pain, and other drugs that pick and choose pain relief in the body without adverse side effects. I think the best thing about them--besides the hope that they’ll dampen the pain of rheumatoid disease—is that they’re designed to be safe. Please check out the references below for more information on the ones I’ve detailed here.

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