Knee surgery last fall 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 kind of pain, at a cost of $635 billion a year.
As ABC News reported 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 the number two list. Cannabis, of course, is still listed with Heroin in Schedule 1.
They also note an increased life expectancy due to soft, sedentary lifestyles, with cancers as the cause behind our need to be numbed. But why are Americans suffering so — or are we actually in this much pain?
Early on in the history of plant based medicines, sometime between 300 and 400 B.C., Hippocrates discovered a powder 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 that we were introduced to our common little “wonder drug”: aspirin. Hoffman, while working for a company called Bayer, rediscovered Gerhardt’s formula to help his father suffering from Arthritis, creating the most prevalent pain management method in circulation today.
The story of Aspirin is simple, but important, as it shows the lineage of plants 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, often associated with accidental death, organ failure, and other side effects too lengthy to list. These meds numb much more than the area affected, worsening the patient’s suffering in the long-run by increasing the level of pain once the patient attempts to detox.
Aspirin sufficed until 1953 when Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, was marketed, soon followed by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These opened the door into the 1960s for more brands in pain management than I can list here.
Our bodies are biologically unchanged — 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, anti-depressants for pain or sleep. This demonstrates how marketing and profits have surpassed true need or even moral ground when it comes to medicating the masses.
The synthetic concoctions the pharmaceutical industry whips up come with side-effects equaling an entirely additional ailment, with lists as long as a novel. For all the talk of nonexistent 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. Trials lasted just six months more than 20 years ago with a warning it shouldn’t be taken more than a year, as the severe negative side effects start piling up.
Would You Like a Seizure With That?
After deciding to continue the trials begun with my breast cancer scare, the first synthetic elimination from my medicine cabinet was the Valium typically needed for pre-medical procedure phobias. Alternatively, two doses of ‘Nternal’, a light cannabis oil made in the Bay Area of California, were all that was needed to calm me before surgery.
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 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, further lowering my heart rate, causing me to feel light-headed, further constipated, susceptible to seizure, trouble urinating, 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, and 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 is the risk with prescription pain pills.)
After surgery I continued taking the oil – one to two droppers full every one to two hours was all that was needed to curb the pain. Cannabis being a natural non-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 through a green drink (a treatment I began with my cancer scare a few months prior to surgery), easing constipation caused from the anesthesia.
For after-wound care I used a cannabis salve made with additional healing herbs. Most dispensaries or collectives carry salve, typically used for minor aches and pains, cuts, bug bites, rashes, skin tags, etc. (For skin cancer, RSO is the treatment.)
If it’s your first time ingesting a concentrated cannabis medicine, you will want to start with a small amount, wait an hour, and then take more as needed. The strong medicine allows you to sleep so your body will heal. You also don’t risk overdose, since cannabis doesn’t stop your heart, as can most prescription pain meds.
Big Pharma: Drug Dealers to the Masses
Had I opted for the Vicodin post surgery, the outcome would have been much different. I would have been swollen longer, surely constipated, and completely incoherent the first several days with no appetite to speak of. Additionally, my immune system would have been challenged at a time when my body needs 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, up to two months post-surgery, chances are I might have wanted more. This seems to be a given, 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 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 – the gateway drug to Heroin no one tells you about.
In CNN’s ground-breaking documentary, “Weeds,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta stated that prescription pain meds take someone’s life every 19 minutes in this country, yet said 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 attributable to drivers under the influence of big pharma behind the wheel.
Among children under the age of six, the CDC reports a whopping 40 percent entering the ER poisoned by prescription meds.
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 or feels good, we keep on doing it.
With legalization spreading like wildfire across the country, it seems that public perception may be turning around sooner rather than later on cannabis as a valuable medicine. Hopefully this will at least open the doors for credible research, enabling production of more verifiable cannabis medicine with proper dosage instructions.
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.
Header photo credit: Wikipedia