Three Plants That Could Replace Opioids in Pain Treatment
Three Plants That Could Replace Opioids in Pain TreatmentJanuary 31st, 2019 by Cindy Perlin
Opioids come with benefits and risks
Opium. Heroin. Morphine. Methadone. Oxycodone. Hydrocodone. These substances, known as opioids, help many achieve pain relief. They also come with risks, the best known of which are addiction and overdose. Other risks include increased falls in the elderly, reduced immunity, and an increase in auto accidents. There are many safe alternatives to opioids that are just as effective. The most effective and safest painkillers may come from plants.
Opioids are derived from a plant, the poppy. There are other plants with similar benefits and fewer risks that may be even more effective. Here are just three:
- Cannabis (Marijuana)
- Wild Lettuce
It’s no surprise to many people that marijuana is a plant that has medicinal properties, including the ability to relieve pain. References to using marijuana as a pain reliever date back to 2700 BC. Marijuana grows wild everywhere in the world except in the coldest climates. It was commonly used for medicinal purposes in the United States.
The Federal Government Banned Marijuana Despite Known Medical Benefits
Marijuana was in many pharmaceutical products until 1941, when it was banned against the advice of the American Medical Association. The ban was the result of the combined efforts of anti-drug crusader Henry Anslinger and the Rockefeller family, whose industrial and chemical interests were threatened by the competition from hemp.
The federal government subsequently classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, a drug with high abuse potential and no known medical use. This has made it very difficult for researchers to obtain the plant or get permission to study it.
Despite the barriers to research and the continuing controversies around it, one thing is perfectly clear: in the thousands of years that marijuana has been used, there has not been even one overdose death from marijuana ever reported.
We Now Know the Science of Marijuana
Marijuana is the only known plant that contains compounds called cannabinoids. The human body manufactures these same compounds, called endocannabinoids when manufactured internally. These compounds are used by the body to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and restore the body to a balanced state after stress or injury. When marijuana is introduced into the body through inhalation, ingestion or other means, its natural compounds bind easily to cell receptors, creating few side effects and facilitating healing on many levels.
Marijuana Works Great For Pain and Has Additional Medical Benefits
The average amount of pain relief reported by pain patients who use medical marijuana is 64% according to some studies. Marijuana is not considered physically addictive because withdrawal symptoms after chronic use are minimal. Marijuana can also reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms, and prevent development of tolerance in opioid users. It can help with anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, seizures and many other medical conditions.
Some people find the psychological effects of marijuana compelling and have difficulty stopping use for that reason.
Two Thirds of Americans Now Have Legal Access to Medical Marijuana
Marijuana is currently legal in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia for patients with qualifying medical conditions who are certified by a medical provider. More states are considering making it legal. It remains illegal at the federal level, though legislation has been introduced in Congress to change that.
Don’t have legal access to medical marijuana? Check out our CBD products, which have similar benefits.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciose)
Kratom is an herb that grows in Southeast Asia. While far less well known than Cannabis, and far less researched, kratom appears to have similar effects. A literature review published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in April 2017 reported that kratom has the following beneficial effects: analgesic (pain relieving), helps with opiate withdrawal, lowers blood pressure, is antidiabetic and antidiarrheal, and enhances immunity and tissue repair. It also appears to help with weight loss.
Kratom is Relatively Safe
The same literature review cites a handful of case reports of deaths associated with kratom, but in every case there was the presence of other drugs that could have been the cause. Animal studies, primarily in rats, showed some serious adverse effects, but these studies were at ridiculously high doses of 100 to 1000 mg per kilogram (2.2 pounds). Equivalent doses would not be consumed by humans.
Small doses of kratom appear to have stimulant effects, with larger doses having sedating effects. This is similar to CBD, an extract of cannabis.
Kratom Comes in Different Strains
Like cannabis, kratom has different strains, generally classified into red, green and white veins. Red veins are calming and work better for pain and sedation. Green veins are a little more stimulating than reds and also tend to last the longest. White veins are the most stimulating and are good for energy boost and mood elevation. Some kratom users use different strains at different times of the day, using more stimulating strains in the morning and more calming strains at night.
Government Efforts to Ban Kratom
In late 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tried to schedule Kratom as a Schedule 1 drug(a drug with high abuse potential and no known medical benefits), citing the above noted fatalities as the reason. Public outcry was significant, and the DEA backed off its decision. The federal government, including the FDA, is continuing its efforts to ban kratom, as are many states.
Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa)
Wild lettuce, like cannabis, grows wild in many parts of world, including parts of Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. It was widely used in the U.S. in the 19th century as an opium substitute. Wild lettuce contains two active compounds, lactucopicrin and lactucin, which bind to opioid receptors and produce pain relief. These compounds are used by drug manufacturers to produce medications to treat asthma, urinary tract disorders, painful menstruation and joint pain.
Wild Lettuce is Safe and Effective for Most with Pain and Anxiety
Wild lettuce has been reported to provide relief from migraine and tension headaches, menstrual cramps and joint and muscle pain. Wild lettuce also has sedative and anti-anxiety effects.
Wild lettuce appears to be safe for most people in small amounts. Wild lettuce may cause an allergic reaction in people who have allergies to ragweed and related plants. If you have narrow angle glaucoma, it is advised to avoid wild lettuce because it contains a chemical that could worsen this condition.
How to Take Wild Lettuce
Wild lettuce can be taken as extract or as an herbal supplement. It’s unregulated by the FDA and legal everywhere. It can be found online and in herb shops.
For information on a wild lettuce extract, click HERE
The Bottom Line
The poppy plant and its pharmaceutical derivatives do not have a monopoly on pain relief, despite marketing efforts to convince us otherwise. Other plants are safer and have equal or better pain relief effects.
Need help finding pain relief? Check out our provider directory HERE
To find products that can help you relieve pain, click HERE.
For inspirational stories of people who have healed intransigent pain, click HERE.
Cindy Perlin is a chronic pain expert, licensed clinical social worker, certified biofeedback practitioner and chronic pain survivor. She is the author of The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free and the CEO of the Alternative Pain Treatment Directory. She is in private practice in the Albany, NY area, where she has been helping her clients achieve their health and wellness goals for over 25 years. See her provider listing HERE. You can also schedule a phone consult with Cindy HERE.