by K. Trout
Originally Published at Opioids.com
archived by erowid September 2001
"Millions of people suffer needlessly from agonizing pain because physicians have been reluctant to use ‘high-risk' opioids"A major problem faced by narcotics users and abusers is the well-known development of tolerance when an opiate is given repeatedly over a period of time. This is directly responsible for a number of the problems associated with narcotic use and abuse since increasing tolerance requires that steadily larger doses be used to achieve the same effects or degree of pain relief.
Crain & Shen 2000
"The first thing they told us in medical school is that no one has ever died from pain but plenty of physicians have had their careers destroyed trying to help people who are in pain."
Comment from an emergency room physician requesting anonymity (2001)
This also underlies much of the crime associated with street addiction as the cost of maintaining a habit also escalates along with the dosage, often leading addicts to turn to drug dealing, prostitution or criminal activities to enable them to afford their daily dose.
Many experienced junkies, especially if heroin users, address this problem by taking regular breaks from their drug of choice, allowing their tolerance to diminish and their effective dosage to also be decreased. Due to the unpredictable quality of unregulated black-market street drugs this can actually be potentially dangerous if they then acquire material of greater potency than they were expecting. (Junkies who relapse after recovery face a similar risk when they return to use.)
Some users employ materials like cimetidine (Tagamet) [R.A.H. 2000] to retard drug metabolism and thereby maximize their effectiveness. [An interesting but unrelated point worthy of further investigation is the report of Peterson et al. 1983 indicating that use of cimetidine one hour before and after administration of large amounts of cocaine to rodents prevented hepatic toxicity and liver damage. Pellinen et al. 1994 also reported a prevention of "metabolism-related hepatotoxicity" by use of Cytochrome P450 3A inhibitors.]
Other users recommend grapefruit juice (Anonymous 2000) to interfere with the metabolism of the opiates by the liver and small intestinal Cytochrome P450 enzyme CYP3A and thus attempt to maximize their per dose effects, blood concentration and duration. While this has been reported by many users to be effective at maximizing per dose results this does not affect the development of tolerance.
Presently many questions remain, as there is also been some conjecture made that administration of grapefruit juice might interfere with the conversion of codeine to morphine due to its lesser inhibition of some CYP subfamilies. This does not seem to be the case; Caraco et al. 1996 reported (in animals) that if codeine was coadministered with selective inhibitors of CYP3A4 this could result in increased morphine production and enhanced effects due to "shunting into the CYP2D6 pathway" (as CYP2D6 would NOT be affected).
It is worth noting that I can thus far locate NOTHING in the *scientific* literature specifically supporting the use of grapefruit juice to increase the general effectiveness of opiates or even that CYP3A is responsible for the metabolism of heroin. Although, it is certainly reasonable to assume that CYP3A is responsible for its metabolism since it is proven as such for other opioids such as codeine (Caraco et al. 1996) and fentanyl (Feierman & Lasker 1996)
Reports of successful application, circulating orally among users (Anonymous 2000 & 2001) and posted on web-based bulletin boards, are common enough that this should be investigated further.
It is important to keep in mind that grapefruit juice can also prove problematic due to the elevated levels of bioavailable drug, requiring a reduction of the dosage. Sometimes it can even be dangerous if certain other drugs are being used. The combination of grapefruit juice with some specific pharmaceuticals has produced many serious problems and even some deaths. (Ameer & Weintraub 1997; Dresser et al. 2000)
Another practice reportedly employed by some narcotic users is combining hydroxyzine with opiates to potentiate their effects. This is said to produce a rough doubling of intensity with the addition of unwanted side effects like a dry mouth. [Anonymous 2000] It appears to have no effect on the development of tolerance.
An interesting approach is the combination of opiates with the opiate antagonists naloxone or naltrexone in miniscule amounts. The combination of less than 0.001% of what would be a normal dose of the antagonist with an opiate allows a far greater response ("at least 50%") to the opiate which in turn permits a much lower effective dose to be used. It is also said to prevent respiratory depression, tolerance and addiction. This approach has apparently been patented (Crain & Shen 1996) and is being commercially developed by Pain Therapeutics. [R.A.H. 2000; Crain & Shen 2000]
Another interesting comment was made by Karl Jansen (2001) concerning the administration of small oral doses of ketamine being found to be of use in chronic pain clinic for "greatly reducing" the development of tolerance (via blockade of NMDA receptors).
However, many people are unaware that both enhanced effectiveness of narcotic analgesics AND prevention or reversal of tolerance is readily achievable through the oral use of up to 200-250 mg of Proglumide [(DL)-4-Benzamido-N,N-dipropylglutaramic acid]. [See Ott 1999; Watkins et al. 1984]
The work of Watkins suggests there may be a therapeutic dosage window with diminished results above it but more detailed work to define this is apparently lacking.
Rather than simply augment the action of the opiates, proglumide actually interferes with the anti-opioid activity of the neuropeptide CCK.
The chronic administration of opiates, or spinal cord and other CNS injuries, elevates the level of Cholecystokinin (CCK) that is present. Such elevated levels exert an antagonistic effect on opioid activity resulting in significantly diminished analgesic effects. (Watkins et al. 1984; Xu et al. 1993 & 1994)
It is this rise in CCK levels that directly leads to the condition known as drug tolerance and the corresponding increase in its anti-opioid activity that requires the opiate user to use increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same effects.
This anti-opiate effect can be prevented or even reversed through the administration of CCK inhibitors such as proglumide. (Watkins et al. 1984)
Besides just interfering with the adverse action of CCK on opiate activity, proglumide is also known to augment the analgesic effect of opiates. Often this can provide a higher quality of analgesia for those patients who suffer from an incomplete response to pain medications.
Watkins & coworkers reported that proglumide reversed morphine tolerance and also 1) hastened the onset of analgesia, 2) increased the peak levels, and 3) prolonged the duration.
They suggested that not simply did this indicate that effective narcotic doses could be decreased but it also indicated that proglumide might be able to enhance the effects of other procedures, such as acupuncture, which involve endogenous opiates. (Watkins et al. 1984)
Proglumide is a nonselective CCK inhibitor that was formerly employed as an anti-ulcer medication (Hahne et al. 1981). It shows NO analgesic effects of its own.
Although proglumide is now considered to be an obsolete pharmaceutical due to changes in our understandings of ulcer etiology, it has already seen extensive pharmacological and toxicological testing proving its safety and has been approved for use in humans.
It has largely fallen into disuse but is still available in bulk via chemical houses or as a pharmaceutical in Europe and Africa sold under the trade name Milid and Milide.
Other CCK inhibitors show similar properties (Idänpään-Heikkilä et al. 1997; Xu et al. 1993). However, beyond simply having seen previous use in humans, proglumide is both inexpensive and nontoxic. (Ott 1999)
Proglumide is not some sort of magic bullet for completely eliminating the risk of tolerance development and addiction as its effects are only effective for a limited duration before tolerance to IT begins to develop. (After 8 days its effectiveness begins to wane) The work of Kellstein & Mayer 1990 suggests that successful therapeutic/maintenance applications will probably require its discontinuation for a week after each week of use. More work is needed to better define the precise parameters of its effective use for this purpose.
Despite this, proglumide has already demonstrated itself to be of value both in pain management and as an adjunct to maintaining a narcotic addiction within a larger program of harm reduction (Anonymous 2000; Ott 1999).
What is fascinating is how few drug educators, drug treatment facilities or even drug users are aware of this despite it being readily available information for nearly 20 years.
If development of tolerance and the high price of a sustained addiction are truly as serious of a problem as we all agree that they are, one can only wonder how it is that, despite the tools existing to remove or at least reduce this problem, there seems to be no interest or research except on a limited scale related to specific small areas of chronic pain management and understanding.
The current misguided approach of substituting methadone is commonly reported to actually cause MORE perceptual and thinking problems than the opiates it replaces PLUS methadone is known to cause physical damage to internal organs that are not encountered with opiate use itself.
Harm reduction approaches would benefit greatly by using proglumide as a cornerstone and making it readily available to both narcotic users and abusers.
Those who will most certainly object include organized crime and drug dealers who enjoy the obscene profits reaped from escalating drug tolerances, and possibly also the so-called "drug educators" that sadly often seem to be the ones most in need of some factual education.
There are many problems associated with opiate use and abuse. While the majority of these are legal in origin, the most sensible approach would be to ameliorate [or mitigate] those that aren't.
Increased analgesic effectiveness and prevention of tolerance are two obvious areas where harm reduction is readily possible TODAY. Both sufferers of chronic pain and narcotic addicts stand to benefit from having their needs met and their health risks simultaneously decreased.
As this is first and foremost a health problem, the current approach of harm maximization is both counterproductive and unacceptable. To a rationale or caring mind it might even be perceived of as unethical and amoral.
Not only do sufferers of chronic pain and narcotic addicts stand to benefit from such harm reduction approaches but, by decreasing drug-associated crimes, a significant area of the true "drug problem" can be directly addressed, thereby benefiting society as a whole.
References:Ameer, Barbara & Randy A. Weintraub (1997) Clinical Pharmacokinetics 33 (2): 103-121. "Drug Interactions with Grapefruit Juice."
Anonymous (2000 & 2001) Personal interviews with assorted opiate users & abusers.
Caraco, Y. et al. (1996) Drug Metab. Dispos. 24(7): 761-764. "Microsomal codeine N-demethylation: cosegregation with cytochrome P4503A4 activity." [Y. Caraco, T. Tateishi, F.P. Guengerich & A.J. Wood] [Abstract from PubMed]
Crain & Shen 1996: See patent references farther below.
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Entheogen Review; POBox 19820, Sacramento, CA 95819-0820. [www.entheogenreview.com]
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Pain Therapeutics, Inc., 250 E. Grand Avenue, STE 70, San Francisco, CA 94080
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Additional information that was not used or referenced above:
(See also CCK inhibitor references below),
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and/or attenuating tolerance and dependence
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E-mail: K Trout firstname.lastname@example.org