Medical Monday: Cannabis and Pain: Soothing a Soft Society

My own knee surgery a few years ago had me thinking about pain, true tolerance, and why so many Americans are bent on being anesthetized.

The Institute of Medicine states 100 million Americans suffer from some form of pain at a cost of $635 billion a year. As ABC News reported in January of 2012, 80 percent of the world’s pain meds are consumed in the good old U.S. of A., with synthetic opioids just recently bumped by the FDA from Schedule 3 to Schedule 2. Cannabis, of course, is still listed with Heroin on Schedule 1.

Causes including an increased life expectancy paired with a sedentary lifestyle, and of course cancer, are listed as the primary reasons behind our need to be numbed. But why are Americans suffering so; or are we really in this much pain?


Medicine Grows

Early on in the history of plant based medicines, sometime between 300 and 400 B.C. Hippocrates discovered that a powder produced from the bark and leaves of the Willow tree held healing properties for headaches, pains and fevers. By 1829 scientists named the active compound, “salicin.”

Many more chemists would experiment with the compound, but it wasn’t until German chemist Felix Hoffmann, while working for a company called Bayer, repurposed a formula for his father suffering from arthritis, declaring our common little aspirin the “wonder drug.”

The story of Aspirin is simple, but important, as it shows the heritage of plants within modern medicine.

Dulling the Pain

Today, the average arthritis sufferer pops pills from a list originally designed for end of life care and often associated with accidental death, liver failure, and other side effects too lengthy to list. They numb much more than the area affected, and increase the level of pain in the long run when attempting to detox.

Aspirin sufficed until 1953 when Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, was marketed. This would soon be followed by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, opening the door into the 1960s for more brands in pain management than I can list here.

Our bodies are biologically the same, why the increase in pain medication?

After Knee Surgery
After Knee Surgery

Americans as Marketing Lab Rats

In the film “Love and Other Drugs” Big Pharma reps are taught to suggest drugs for uses other than what the pills was originally developed for, for example using anti-depressants for pain or sleep. It would appear that marketing and profits have become more valuable than health in our society.

The synthetic concoctions the pharmaceutical industry whips up come with side-effects lists as long as a novel. For all the talk of lack of trials on Cannabis, the trials for most pharmaceuticals are short, often just six months to a year on small groups with a limited focus.

Would you like a seizure with that?

One of the first synthetic meds to be eliminated from my medicine cabinet was the Valium typically needed for my pre-medical procedure phobia. A light cannabis oil prior to surgery was all that was needed to calm me now.

Relaxed without being wasted, I was in charge of my own dose and kept my tincture bottle with me up until I was put under. Nurses and attending staff were fascinated by my choice, and I was happy to lead by example.

After surgery I was offered Vicodin, the number one hit on the top ten pain numbing chart.

Already under the influence of the anesthesia, I’d be adding this other pain killer to the mix. I would further lower my heart rate causing me to feel light-headed, be further constipated, possibly seizure, suffer from stomach pain, itching, jaundice… the list goes on.

Post-Surgery Sting

After surgery I continued taking the oil – one to two droppers full every one to two hours was all that was needed for my pain. As cannabis is a natural anti-inflammatory, there was no swelling at day two post-surgery and I had no fear of infection.

At night I continued my maintenance dosing of RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), which has replaced 10 prescription meds, and helps me aquire a good night’s sleep.

I also continued my daily regimen of ingesting raw leaves daily in a green smoothie each morning – a treatment I began during my cancer scare a few months prior to surgery. This also did away with any constipation caused from the anesthesia, which is a common malady post-surgery.

For post-surgery wound care, I used a gifted cannabis salve with a coconut base that included other healing herbs in the mix.

Most dispensaries or collectives will carry salve. This is the same salve you would use for minor aches and pains, cuts, bug bites, rashes, skin tags, etc.


Big Pharma: Drug Dealers to the Masses

Had I opted for the Vicodin, the outcome would have been much different. I would have remained swollen for longer, lost my appetite, become constipated, and gotten lost in a complete mental haze the first several days.

After taking the highly addictive pharmaceuticals for the required amount of time – one to two tablets up to four times a day for up to two months post-surgery, chances are I would have craved more of the substance. This seems to be a given, as you can’t search for Vicodin online without finding withdrawal information at its side.

A docu-drama on television told the story of a young woman who went from being an injured college athlete on full scholarship, to turning tricks in a Motel for Heroin when her health insurance and subsequent OxyContin prescriptions dried up. Did she begin her pain management with the Oxy? No, she started with Vicodin – gateway drug to Heroin.

In CNN’s ground-breaking documentary, “Weeds,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta shared that prescription pain meds take someone’s life every 19 minutes in this country, yet he said he could not find one documented death by Cannabis. 

Got Research?

As a species, humans aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed. We put things in our mouths before fully realizing dangers. We put things in our mouths when we know something is dangerous – and if it tastes good or feels good, we keep on doing it.

With legalization spreading like wildfire across the country, public perception is turning around on Cannabis as a respectable medicine. The doors have already been opened for real research. While the rest of United States quells the daily pain of living through the colored glasses of modern medicine, the savvy cannabis patient is on an alternative, healthier path.

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