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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Oct;232(19):3637-47. doi: 10.1007/s00213-015-4023-x. Epub 2015 Jul 23.

Cross-tolerance to cannabinoids in morphine-tolerant rhesus monkeys.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, Mail Code 7764, San Antonio, TX, 78229-3900, USA.



Opioids remain the drugs of choice for treating moderate to severe pain, although adverse effects limit their use. Therapeutic utility might be improved by combining opioids with other drugs to enhance analgesic effects, but only if adverse effects are not similarly changed.


Cannabinoids have been shown to enhance the antinociceptive potency of opioids without increasing other effects; this study examined whether the effectiveness of cannabinoids is altered in morphine-dependent monkeys.


Four monkeys received up to 10 mg/kg morphine twice daily. Changes in the antinociceptive effects of opioid receptor agonists (morphine, U50,488) and cannabinoid receptor agonists (WIN 55,212, CP 55,940, and Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) were determined by measuring the latency for monkeys to remove their tails from 40, 50, 54, and 58 °C water.


Before treatment, all drugs increased tail withdrawal latency from warm (54 °C) water. Chronic morphine treatment decreased the potency of each drug; the magnitude of rightward shift in dose-effect curves was greatest for morphine, WIN 55,212 and CP 55,940 with at least sixfold shifts for each drug during treatment. Discontinuation of morphine treatment resulted in signs that are indicative of withdrawal, including increased heart rate, decreased daytime activity, and tongue movement.


Tolerance developed to the antinociceptive effects of morphine and cross-tolerance developed to cannabinoids under conditions that produced modest physical dependence. Compared with the doses examined in this study, much smaller doses of opioids have antinociceptive effects when given with cannabinoids; it is possible that tolerance will not develop to chronic treatment with opioid/cannabinoid mixtures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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