Opioids are effective medications, but they have several key limitations including the development of tolerance, establishment of dependence, diversion for non-medical use, and the development of addiction. Therefore, any drugs which act in an additive or synergistic fashion with opioids to address medical applications have the potential to reduce opioid-related harms.
To determine if heroin and Δ-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) interact in an additive or independent manner to alter nociception, body temperature, and spontaneous locomotor activity when inhaled or injected.
Groups of female and male rats, implanted with radiotelemetry transmitters, were exposed to vapor generated from heroin (50 mg/mL in propylene glycol vehicle; PG), THC (50 mg/mL), or the combination for assessment of effects on temperature and activity. Thermal nociception was assessed with a warm water tail-withdrawal assay.
Heroin inhalation increased temperature and activity whereas THC inhalation decreased temperature and activity in both female and male Sprague-Dawley rats. Effects of combined inhalation were in opposition, and additional experiments found the same outcome for the injection of heroin (0.5 mg/kg, s.c.) and THC (10 mg/kg, i.p.) alone and in combination. In contrast, the co-administration of heroin and THC by either inhalation or injection produced additive effects on thermal nociception in both male and female Sprague-Dawley and Wistar rats.
This study shows that additive effects of THC with an opioid on a medical endpoint such as analgesia may not generalize to other behavioral or physiological effects, which may be a positive outcome for unwanted side effects.