Cannabis is an excellent analgesic. It's healing and beneficial properties were shown to me a couple of years prior to my cancer experience - where I finally did away with all prescription meds (see Educated Stoner).
I had torn a tendon in my elbow and required surgery to clean out the damaged soft tissue for regrowth. Prior to surgery a friend made me little rosettes out of chocolate to ingest for the pain. They worked so well I never needed to take the Vicodin prescribed.
Since that experience, I've interviewed dozens of patients in many states who use cannabis as medicine for pain management with great success. One elderly woman said the first pills to go from her medicine cabinet after ingesting cannabis were pain killers and sleeping pills.
The following essay came from my own use of cannabis in two surgeries - my elbow and eventually an arthroscopy on my knee.
Cannabis & 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 January of 2012, states that 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 on Schedule 1.
Causes listed include an increased life expectancy with a soft, sedentary lifestyle and cancer as the cause of our need to be numbed. But why are Americans suffering so; or are we really 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, while working for a company called Bayer, rediscovered Gerhardt's 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 lineage of plants to medicine to market.
Dulling the Pain
Today, the average arthritis suffer pops from a list of medications originally designed for end of life care. With complications often associated with accidental death, liver failure, and other side effects too lengthy to list – numbing much more than the area affected, while increasing 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, soon followed by non-steroidal 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?
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. In my mind, 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 entire additional ailment, with 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.
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, further lowering my heart rate, causing me to feel light-headed, be further constipated, 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. But the good news is, you cannot overdose on cannabis, and your heart will not stop, as 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 for breakthrough pain. And being a natural anti-inflammatory, there was no swelling to speak of from day two post-surgery, and no fear of infection.
At night I continued my maintenance dosing of RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), which has replaced up to 10 prescription meds from my pharmacopia. It also helped me have a good night's sleep, while quelling any inflammation or pain during the day.
I also continued my daily regimen of ingesting raw leaves daily in a green smoothie each morning – a treatment began with my cancer scare a few months prior to surgery. This also did away with any constipation caused from the anesthesia – a common malady post-surgery.
For after 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, but you can find some recipes in the Apothecary section of this site. This is the same salve you would use for minor aches and pains, cuts, bug bites, rashes, skin tags, etc.
(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.)
Big Pharma: Drug Dealers to the Masses
Had I opted for the Vicodin, the outcome would have been much different. I would have been swollen longer, constipated for sure, and completely wasted the first several days, with no appetite to speak of.
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 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 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 shares 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.
Humans aren't the sharpest tool in the species 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 sooner than later on Cannabis as good medicine. The doors have already been opened for real research, and more real medicine being made with proper dosing.
While the rest of America quells the daily pain of living through the colored glasses of modern medicine, the savvy cannabis patient is already reaping the benefits. The healing is already happening, we are just waiting for legislatures to get educated on good medicine.
Note: This essay has run in many publications around the world, including Dope Magazine.