Acupuncture has long been shown to relieve pain, but medical science lacked a mechanism to explain how it works. Now research out of Shanghai China reported in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine finds that the cannabinoid system provides an answer.
The new research is entitled Electroacupuncture inhibition of hyperalgesia in rats with adjuvant arthritis: involvement of cannabinoid receptor 1 and dopamine receptor subtypes in striatum. The cannabinoid system is the regulatory system discovered and revealed over the past 25 years to play major roles in homeostasis and pain relief. The cannabinoid receptor 1 mentioned is usually abbreviated CB1, and is the main receptor activated by cannabis (marijuana) and also by natural endocannabinoids produced by our bodies.
Based on their knowledge that dopamine D1/D2 receptors are involved in electroacupuncture analgesia, they conjectured that the ” CB1 and dopamine systems sometimes interact and may operate synergistically in rat striatum.” They found at the sites of two pain relieving acupuncture points “that the levels of CB1 expression in the repeated-EA group were much higher.” They conclude, “these results suggested that the strong activation of the CB1 receptor after repeated EA resulted in the concomitant phenomenon of the upregulation of D1 and D2 levels of gene expression.” Activating these CB1 receptors turned on the D1/D2 receptor genes.
The authors conjectured, “One unproved but intriguing idea is that endocannabinoids may set the analgesic tone of the
body, with the level of their production acting as a kind of pain thermostat.” Again, the cannabinoid receptor system shows its huge importance in human physiology. Electroacupuncture and cannabis both activate the CB1 receptor and both result in pain relief.