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endocannabinoids, nocieptive learning, chronic pain, opioids


Chronic pain is a national health crisis. Opioids are one of the primary treatment options for severe pain, but due to their addictive nature, there is an increasing need for alternative treatments. With the recent legislation passed permitting the potential medical use of cannabis, it may become more common to treat chronic pain with cannabis related medication. Yet, there is little known about how cannabinoids work on the brain. From previous work, it was shown that endocannabinoids, the brain’s endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitters, contributed to injury-induced sensitization to mechanical stimuli in Hirudo verbana. In this study, we are investigating whether injury can impact nociceptive learning and if this effect is modulated by endocannabinoids (nociception is detection of damaging stimuli). In our nociceptive operant conditioning, or NOC, the animal learns to avoid repeated nociceptive stimuli by hiding the stimulated body part, or by becoming a moving target. Preliminary data shows that injury enhances NOC, and moving forward we will be looking into the role endocannabinoids have in NOC and Injury induced sensitization. To do this we will chemically inhibit endocannabinoid synthesis in animals that will undergo NOC with or without injury. This study will help us further understand the role endocannabinoids have in mediating chronic pain, and ultimately how to effectively treat people who suffer from chronic pain.

First Advisor

Brian Burrell

Second Advisor

Jessica Hoynoski

Research Area

Basic Biomedical Sciences