Recently, the presence of functional interaction between the opioid and cannabinoid system has been shown in various pharmacological responses. Although there is an increasing interest for the feasible therapeutic application of a co-administration of cannabinoids and opioids in some disorders (i.e. to manage pain, to modulate immune system and emotions) and the combined use of the two drugs by drug abusers is becoming largely diffuse, only few papers focused on cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying this interaction. This review updates the biochemical and molecular underpinnings of opioid and cannabinoid interaction, both within the central nervous system and periphery. The most convincing theory for the explanation of this reciprocal interaction involves (i) the release of opioid peptides by cannabinoids or endocannabinoids by opioids, (ii) the existence of a direct receptor-receptor interaction when the receptors are co-expressed in the same cells, and (iii) the interaction of their intracellular pathways. Finally, the cannabinoid/opioid interaction might be different in the brain rewarding networks and in those accounting for other pharmacological effects (antinociception, modulation of emotionality and cognitive behavior), as well as between the central nervous system and periphery. Further insights about the cannabinoid/opioid interaction could pave the way for new and promising therapeutic approaches.
Keywords: Opioids, cannabinoids, interaction, addiction, pain, immunity, emotion, cognition
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