Is a curious old compound a solution for chronic pain?

PEA is making a comeback after showing promise in the '60s and '70s
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A compounding pharmacy claims a curious old compound could help fill the codeine-sized gap treating chronic pain.

The medication is called palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) and it provides effective relief without the risk of addiction, according to National Custom Compounding.

PEA is fatty acid amine and is classified as an unscheduled supplement by the TGA.

The pharmacy’s owner and head pharmacist, Matthew Bellgrove, says PEA showed initial promise in clinical trials during the 1960s and '70s.

It didn’t take off because it isn’t commercially available. However, it has re-emerged as a pain medication in the US in the past few years and is now being picked up by integrative doctors in Australia.

Mr Bellfield says a number of patients have been able to reduce their doses of oxycontin and ketamine after taking PEA. However, the results can vary across patients.

“We’ve had some really interesting results for patients who have been chronic pain sufferers for a long time and getting great relief."

But he acknowledges that other patients do not get the relief they expect from it.

“Because there are no huge big pharma studies on it and it’s not an easily accessible product, this is one of those ones you have to have a go at and see if it works for patients.”

Mr Bellgrove stresses PEA is aimed at chronic rather than acute pain. It’s not an alternative for patients who’ve used low-dose codeine occasionally for a headache.

“I don’t believe that this product would work necessarily that well [in this case] but if they are taking codeine-containing products consistently over the long-term it would be a better substitute.”

PEA is believed to bind to a particular receptor in the cell nucleus that controls pain and inflammation and switch off its ability to transmit pain.