Natural Painkillers: Nasal Spray Being Studied Could Replace Addictive Opioids
Researchers at University College London say have shown they can relieve pain in animals using natural painkillers: a nasal spray that delivers millions of particles that encase a natural opioid into the brain. In clinical trials, animals did not exhibit signs of tolerance, indicated that the risk of overdose is far lower.
The scientists are now raising money for the first clinical trials in humans to evaluate the nasal spray’s safety. They want to use healthy participants who will receive the spray and see if it reduces the pain when a subject immeres one arm in ice-cold water.
Ijeoma Uchegbu, lead researcher, per The Guardian:
“If people don’t develop tolerance, you don’t have them always having to up the dose. And if they don’t have to up the dose, they won’t get closer and closer to overdose.”
If the human trial is successful, the researchers will continue with more trials to determine if the nasal spray can alleviate pain in patients with bone cancer who incur sudden and severe instances of pain.
Uchegbu contends that the approach has promise because natural opioids work differently that synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone, a drug often used for moderate to severe pain. The body rapidly becomes tolerance to synthetic opioids, resulting in the patient needing more and more of the medication to achieve the same level of pain relief.
This action does not appear to occur with natural opioids, however.
Researchers have believed in the potential of natural opioids as painkillers for years, but have been stymied by both the opioids and the brain. Injecting natural opioids into the blood result in them being quickly broken down in the liver. The little that remains must jump a hurdle by crossing into the brain that also effectively filters out compounds, as well.
Uchegbu and researchers revealed in the study that they could deliver enough of the natural opioid enkephalin to the brain to relieve the pain of rats by encasing the chemical soluble nanoparticles. The miniscule capsules provide enough protection for the opioid to reach the necessary parts of the brain for pain reduction, and once the particle dissolves, the leftover products are eliminated from the body.
The scientists hope that this potential new treatment may help battle the opioid epidemic that is now killing tens of thousands of Americans each year.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology