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Of the 1.2 million Canadians taking prescription opioids for chronic pain, more than 10 per cent develop opioid use disorder compared to just 0.2 per cent in the general population. Currently, it is unclear which neurochemical factors put them at risk.

The brain contains an endocannabinoid system that has the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). This enzyme is linked closely to a greater risk of addiction and a greater perception of pain. Based on results from animal studies, researchers believe that people with opioid use disorder may have less FAAH enzyme in their brains compared to people without this condition. But the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and opioid use is poorly understood.

In this issue of Research As It Happens, we present an interview with Dr. Isabelle Boileau and PhD candidate Claire Shyu. Together with Dr. Bernard Le Foll, Dr. Andrew Smith and their colleagues at CAMH’s Interprofessional Pain and Addiction Recovery Clinic (IPARC), they are examining whether FAAH could help identify people at risk of developing opioid use disorder. They also hope to see whether therapies that target the endocannabinoid system might have the potential to treat chronic pain. Dr. Boileau, Dr. Le Foll and Claire Shyu’s study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Read more in Research As it Happens.

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