Non-opioid analgesics including both selective and non-selective cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitors and acetaminophen are the most widely used treatments for pain. Inhibition of COX is thought to be largely responsible for both the therapeutic and adverse effects of this class of drugs. Accumulating evidence over the past two decades has demonstrated effects of non-opioids beyond the inhibition of COX and prostaglandin synthesis that might also explain their therapeutic and adverse effects. These include their interaction with endocannabinoids, nitric oxide, monoaminergic, and cholinergic systems. Moreover, the recent development of microarray technology that allows the study of human gene expression suggests multiple pathways that may be related to the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of non-opioids. The present review will discuss the multiple actions of non-opioids and their interactions with these systems during inflammation and pain, suggesting that COX inhibition is an incomplete explanation for the actions of non-opioids and proposes the involvement of multiple selective targets for their analgesic, as well as, their adverse effects.
Keywords: NSAIDs, endocannabinoids, monoaminergic systems, cholinergic system, nitric oxide, interleukin-6, matrix metalloproteinases, inflammatory pain