Explore a few alternative ways to alleviate chronic pain
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults had chronic pain, and 8% percent of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain in 2016. Chronic pain has been linked to restrictions in mobility and daily activities, dependence on opioids, anxiety and depression, and poor perceived health or reduced quality of life.
Chronic pain can be caused by injury, cancer treatments, severe arthritis, digestive disorders and other diseases. Some people don't even know the cause of their pain. Those who suffer from chronic pain might want a more nontraditional way to cope.
"Times are changing, and patients are open to alternatives and more natural approaches to reduce their pain, including acupuncture, meditation and the use of cannabis and CBD," said Andrew Kerklaan, a chripractor in Montreal who has spent 20 years in complementary health care. "CBD is a more natural approach you can take that's better for your system because of its low toxicity."
Some people don't understand the ABCs of CBD -- what it is, how it differs from marijuana, what CBD products they can use for what ailment and whether or not they are actually safe. CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of the main compounds found in the cannabis plant, but it is not marijuana, although marijuana contains CBD. Marijuana also contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is what gives you the "high" when it is smoked or used in cooking.
But how does it help pain? "THC and CBD are the most well-known natural cannabinoids when treating pain," said Jodi Chapin, director of nursing for GreenNurse Group. "There are many compounds in the cannabis plant, and each one has their benefits. It's referred to as the Entourage Effect, which refers to the combined effect of the cannabinoids, terpenes and other chemical compounds in the cannabis plant."
Kerklaan said cannabis and CBD help chronic pain of all intensities. "When you have chronic pain, you lose the ability to be active and it can lead toward depression and an inability to sleep," he said. "Treating chronic pain really needs a multipronged approach to break that cycle. Acupuncture and massage and exercise therapy would all be an important part of it while CBD also offers the potential to reduce pain and improve sleep, improve mood."
There are oral and topical CBD products. "Topical products act at the surface of the skin, but doesn't get into the bloodstream," Kerklaan said. "If you have more chronic pain, you can try an ingestible or an oil drop."
Ann Marie Cavanaugh started having pain in her hands about 10 years ago. She tried cortisol injections, but they stopped working. Her doctors advised against a daily regimen of over-the-counter painkillers, so Cavanaugh tried a CBD tincture. "It helps with the pain and with sleep," said the 54-year-old Fishkill, New York, resident. "I also use the cream, and it definitely takes the edge off."
Sammi Turano is a 36-year-old writer who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1999 and has used CBD oil for about a year. "It's the only thing that helps without adverse side effects," said the Pennsylvania resident. "It also helps calm the anxiety that comes with the disease."
Chapin said each person's CBD and cannabis dosage is different, and many adjustments may be needed to target the dose that controls pain with minimal side effects. "It's very important to start on a low dose of THC and CBD and gradually titrate to the lowest effective dose," she said.
A few years ago, Candy Harrington was on the floor, crawling to the bathroom. She was in agonizing pain from a chronic sciatica issue, which is typically caused by a herniated disc. That crawl was enough for her. She needed help, but she didn't want to pump her body with traditional medications that would be harsh on her system. Instead, she decided to try acupuncture.
According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. It can be used to relieve pain from chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting, dental pain, headaches, low back pain, neck pain and more.
"I chose Eastern medicine, where they treat the cause instead of the symptoms," said the now-62-year-old Northern California resident, who opted for weekly acupuncture visits that each lasted about 1½ hours. "Slowly, I felt relief from the pain, and after about two months, I was much better. These days, I go in for a wellness visit about every six to eight weeks. Today, I am pain-free and I can physically do things I couldn't before treatment. Acupuncture truly gave me a better quality of life."
Although there are few complications from acupuncture, patients who have a bleeding disorder, a pacemaker or are pregnant may not be able to use acupuncture. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health advises patients to check the credentials of the acupuncturist. Most states require a license, certification or registration to practice acupuncture. Most states require a diploma from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for licensing.
Finally, meditation is another way to help combat pain. There's more to the benefits than just a good "ooohhmm." Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57%. It soothes the pain by altering the structure of the brain itself, so patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity. It is said to be modeled after the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program created in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn to help counter -- among other things -- stress, chronic pain and other ailments. According to an article in the U.S. News and World Report, mindful meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain, with some experienced meditators able to reduce it by more than 90%.
Just remember that what method works for everyone else may not work for you. "Everybody is unique and different, and just like a prescription, it doesn't work for everyone," said Kerklaan. "These options are natural, low-risk and are well tolerated."