Cannabis do that?

Cannabis do that?
(Shutterstock) CBD oil has become popular with both consumers and researchers.

Liz Gray/Reporter

Research assistant professor summarizes work with CBD

OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — A lunch seminar sparked Jenny Wilkerson’s interest in chronic pain research during her first semester as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico.

At the seminar her former mentor at UNM gave a speech about her own research on the subject, and until that moment Wilkerson said, while she knew pain could be associated with different diseases, it had never stuck her how chronic pain could be a disease in of itself.

She has now dedicated 12 years to research of chronic pain focusing on cannabinoids, more specifically cannabidoil or CBD.

In a recent article Wilkerson published with her colleague at the University of Florida, Professor Lance McMahon, it stated CBD is ‘widely touted as nature’s miracle by CBD enthusiasts,’ however there is a lot more research needed to understand the capabilities of the cannabinoid.

Wilkerson said the science holds out on CBD’s potential usefulness for patients suffering from chronic pain.

“So far the preclinical science is fairly supportive,” she said. “On my side of things I would rather be a little bit more cautious in what the findings with the rats, mice and animals are telling us.”

“There have been a lot of instances where drugs have shown a lot of promise and then unfortunately when we get to humans it just doesn’t work the same.”

Wilkerson explained the immune cells in our bodies heavily influence how chronic pain is managed. She said the nerve cells are major players conducting pain signaling, and can be completely blocked by drugs like morphine or other pain drugs such as opioids.

“We know now that maybe we don’t want to do that, you want patients to have a normal quality of life,” Wilkerson said. “And if they’re running around on opioids or other drugs that are going to completely blocking those normal sensations, that’s not normal life.”

She and her colleagues are focusing on finding drugs specifically targeting the immune system when it goes awry under pain conditions. They are looking to dampen the chronic pain signals rather than completely blocking all information from the nerve cells.

“We find that if you specifically target those receptors you can get those effects, you can get pain relief while having normal functions,” she said.

Wilkerson said the National Institute of Health has realized pain is not a one-size-fits-all problem, with precision medicine gaining popularity in the health field.

When addressing the opioid epidemic, Wilkerson pointed out though opioids are being cast as the “bad guys” for pain control, that it is both true and untrue in the matter of chronic pain.

She said about 30 percent of patients prescribed opioids for pain control go on to be addicted and back pain opioids are not very effective in the matter of pain control.

“It’s a multi-prong related issue,” Wilkerson said.

She said one component of opioid addiction is the genetic inclination, and Native Americans tend to carry those genetic tendencies toward addiction.

“Not all Muscogee (Creeks) are going to be inclined to addiction, but it’s a greater likelihood,” she said.

Another factor that can lead to opioid addiction is socioeconomic status.

She said poverty has a massive influence. She provided research conducted by Robin Ghertner and Lincoln Groves about the correlation between poverty and opioid addiction.

Maps graphing the poverty rates, unemployment rates, per capita retail opioid sales and drug overdose death rates across the United States show the overlay in relation to the opioid crisis.

(Robin Ghertner and Lincoln Groves, PhD)

All of Wilkerson’s work and research have the same end goal: to help her Native people.

It was the same goal that led her to UNM in the first place, when she was motivated to attend after a visit to the Navajo Nation when she saw the medical conditions her Native brothers and sisters were living in.

She hopes one day her research will address these problems and help the Native American population as a whole.

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