Cannabis & Pain: Soothing A Soft Society

Knee surgery last fall had me thinking about pain, true tolerance, and why so many Americans are bent on being anesthetized.

In a June 2011 report titled “Relieving Pain in America” the Institute of Medicine states 100 million Americans suffer from some kind of pain at a cost of $635 billion a year.

As ABC News reported on January 30, 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 the number two list. Cannabis, of course, is still listed with heroin in Schedule 1.

They noted an increased life expectancy with a soft, sedentary lifestyle and cancers as the cause of our need to be numbed. But why are Americans suffering so; or are we really in this much pain?

Medicine Grows

Devils Lettuce Ph
Devils Lettuce Ph

Early on in the history of plant-based medicines, sometime between 400 and 300 BCE, Hippocrates wrote of a powder from the bark and leaves of the willow tree with healing properties for headaches, pain and fevers. By 1829 scientists had isolated and named the active compound salicin.

Many more chemists would experiment with the compound, but it was German chemist Felix Hoffmann, while working for the Bayer Company, who rediscovered Gerhardt’s formula and used it to ease his father’s suffering from arthritis; declaring our common little aspirin the “wonder drug.” Plant to medicine to market.

Dulling the Pain

Today, the average arthritis suffer pops from a list of meds originally designed for end of life care, pills often associated with accidental death, organ failure, and other side effects too lengthy to list – numbing much more than the area affected, and increasing the level of pain in the long run when later attempting to detox.

Aspirin was joined in 1953 by acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, soon followed by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, opening the door to the 1960s explosion of more brands in pain management than I can list here.

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

Americans as Marketing Lab Rats

In the film “Love and Other Drugs” big pharma reps are taught to suggest drugs for other than originally developed uses, such as using antidepressants for pain or sleep. In my mind, this demonstrates how marketing and profits have surpassed true need or even moral ground when it comes to medicating the masses. Advertising has been reduced to a nagging negative influence, with billions spent convincing us to buy empty, sub-standard products we don’t really need, while polluting our environment and poisoning every living thing.

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

For example, the highly addictive drug Soma prescribed to treat chronic pain is also often prescribed for other symptoms, such as insomnia. More than 20 years ago, trials that lasted just six months generated a  warning that it shouldn’t be taken for more than a year, as the severe negative side effects start piling up.

Would you like a seizure with that?

PillsThe first synthetic compound eliminated from my medicine cabinet since my breast cancer scare was Valium, typically given to dull pre-medical procedure fear. Two doses of the light oil Nternal, made in the San Francisco Bay Area, prior to surgery, were all I needed to calm me.

Completely relaxed without being wasted (Valium is given to rehab patients in recovery and mimics alcohol); I was in charge of my own dose and kept the 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 painkiller to the mix, further lowering my heart rate, causing me to feel light-headed, be further constipated, courting a possible seizure, problems with urination, stomach pain, itching, jaundice… the list goes on.

(Note on dosing: If it’s your first time using a concentrated cannabis medicine, you will want to start with a small amount, wait an hour, then take more, as needed. You may need to lie down and go to sleep. You cannot overdose and your heart will not stop, as with prescription pain pills.)

Post-Surgery Sting

KneeAfter surgery I continued taking the oil – one to two droppers full every one to two hours was all that was needed for breakthrough pain.  And being a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-infection medication, there was no swelling to speak of from day two post-surgery and no fear of infection.

At night I continued using Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), giving me a good night’s sleep, allowing me to wake up without swelling, stiffness or pain.

I also continued my daily regimen of ingesting raw leaves in a green drink  – a treatment that begun with my cancer scare a few months prior to surgery – easing constipation caused by the anesthesia.

For after-wound care I used a cannabis salve made with additional healing herbs. Most dispensaries or collectives carry salves, typically used for minor aches and pains, cuts, bug bites, rashes, skin tags, etc. (For skin cancer RSO is the treatment.)

Big Pharma: Drug Dealers to the Masses

Had I opted for the Vicodin, the outcome would have been much different. I would have had swelling longer, been constipated for sure, completely wasted the first several days, with no appetite to speak of, and my immune system would have been challenged at a time when my body needed it the most.

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

A docudrama on television tells the story of a young woman who went from being an injured college athlete on full scholarship to turning tricks for heroin in a motel 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 shares that prescription pain meds take someone’s life every 19 minutes in this country and he could not find one documented death by cannabis. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports prescription drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death, tallying more traffic deaths with drivers under the influence of big pharma. Among children under the age of six, the CDC reports a whopping 40 percent were brought to the ER for prescription med poisoning.

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 in my lifetime, it seems that public perception may be turning around on cannabis as good medicine.  Hopefully, it will at least open the doors for real research, and more real medicine being made with proper dosing figured out.

While the rest of America quells the daily pain of living through the colored glasses of modern medicine, I’ll continue to use the green, and encourage others to do the same.

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