The opioid epidemic is raging out of control
in the United States and other Western countries. Meanwhile, the discussion of natural alternatives
is almost non-existent. As if nature doesn’t provide any pain relief. The reality is that many pharmaceutical pain
drugs have been developed as synthetic analogues of natural herbs that reduce pain. Aspirin, for example, was synthesized as an
analogue of a constituent in Meadowsweet herb and Willow Bark. Since then, pharmaceutical companies have
synthesized analogues for a large array of natural substances to provide patentable pain
relief. One of the most famous of these is oxycodone. Oxycodone is an opiate chemical synthesized
from the opioid chemical paramorphine. OxyContin is a form of oxycodone – oxycodone
hydrochloride. Some call oxycodone “semi-synthesized.” But such a term is meaningless, because it
is a synthetic compound that is toxic to the body in multiple ways. It is also highly addictive. Oxycodone was synthesized in 1916 in Germany
in an attempt to improve upon extracted opioids such as morphine and heroin. Both morphine and heroin are extracted from
the opium poppy plant. Morphine was isolated from opium in 1805 by
a German pharmacist. Then in 1898, the Bayer company introduced
its newest pharmaceutical, 3,6-diacetylmorphine, under the trademarked brand name of Heroin. Heroin is up to three times more potent than
morphine. Oxycodone was first sold in the U.S. in 1939,
after being marketed by Merck as a combination drug with scopolamine and ephedrine. Oxycodone was first used in clinical settings
in Europe. From medical notes we understand that Hitler
received frequent injections of oxycodone. Yes, this mass murderer was also an addict
of a pharmaceutical drug. In 1995, Purdue Pharma received approval for
OxyContin. It quickly became a wildly popular drug to
help patients with severe pain. It also quickly became a recreational drug,
as black markets worked to get what was intended for severe pain into the hands of those who
wanted to get high. By 2016, OxyContin and other synthetic opioids
such as Fentanyl were responsible for over 20,000 deaths in the United States according
to the Centers for Disease Control. Fentanyl was initially synthesized and marketed
by Paul Janssen and his company, Janssen Pharmaceutica. Brand names for fentanyl now include Fentora,
Matrifen, Lazanda, Istanyl, Duragesic and others. Fentanyl is incredibly powerful and highly
addictive. It is also dangerous, and deadly. Estimates are that fentanyl and its analogues
can be more than a thousand times stronger than morphine and heroin. Fentanyl applications include patches, capsules,
injections and sublinguals. Fentanyl is prescribed as a controlled substance,
and is considered an essential pain medication for severe pain by conventional doctors. But it also comes with dramatic side effects,
such as breathing problems and low blood pressure. It is also highly addictive. The latter has become the greatest problem
of fentanyl. It is so powerful and addictive that tens
of thousands of people throughout the United States are dying from addiction to fentanyl
or heroin that is laced with fentanyl. Yes, heroin suppliers are now lacing their
heroin with fentanyl. This is producing a wild-fire effect throughout
the country, as heroin addicts are increasingly dying from heroin laced with fentanyl purchased
on the street. In fact, a majority of the 20,000 deaths in
2016 to opioids died related to fentanyl and its analogues. But isn’t opium natural you might ask? Yes. Certainly, poppy species such as Papaver somniferum
do contain opiates. And poppy seeds – commonly eaten in breads
and other foods – also contain trace amounts of opiates. But poppy seeds will not get you high. And neither are they addictive. It is only when the sap from the immature
seed pods is concentrated and opiates such as morphine are extracted do we find that
kind of overdose and addictive power. Long before pharmaceutical grade heroin and
morphine were distributed by drug companies, natural opium was utilized by herbalists as
a therapeutic medication. This came in the form of a tincture called
laudanum, utilized not only as an analgesic but also as a treatment for maladies such
as colic, lung infections, anxiety and insomnia. And because it wasn’t extracted specifically
for its morphine content, a variety of medicinal constituents were available in the tincture. Laudanum tincture contains about 1% morphine. As time went on, the distribution of the pharmaceutical
grade opium extracts became widespread and the world was inundated with these highly
addictive forms. Then of course, the more deadly synthetic
pharma versions were launched. Even still, opium’s addictive potential
of early natural forms is greatly overshadowed by today’s purified and intensified forms
of morphine, heroin and of course the modern synthetic opiates like oxycodone and fentanyl
– which are about a hundred thousand times more addictive than laudanum. What about natural alternatives to opioids? Many addictions to opioids occur as a result
of an initial prescription to oxycontin or fentanyl. Often for pain that is transitory in nature. This means that many addictions could be circumvented
if natural alternatives were initially used to reduce pain. Or at least natural alternatives were used
along with non-opioid pain-relief drugs. There are generally two approaches to pain
relief when we discuss natural alternatives for pain. The first approach is to understand the cause
of the pain and utilize therapies that help the body heal the cause of the pain. This can take place with the use of herbs,
acupuncture, massage and other strategies. To balance this approach, there are meditative
exercises and mindfulness that help the mind manage the pain response. These approaches have been shown to also reduce
pain and help speed the body’s healing. After all, the holistic approach to pain is
to understand that pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong. So the goal should be to listen to the body
and get to that source of the pain and help the body heal itself as quickly as possible. Let’s discuss each approach separately,
beginning with the latter. Several studies have shown that mindfulness
meditation and the practice of meditative exercises such as yoga can help reduce pain
and reduce the use of pain drugs. A number of studies have investigated whether
mindfulness meditation can reduce pain. For example, a 2016 study from the Wake Forest
University School of Medicine worked with 95 people to test pain reduction therapies. They were given either the pain drug naloxone
or mindfulness meditation at different times to test the same pain stimuli. The researchers found that mindfulness meditation
can significantly reduce pain. The researchers stated: “Mindfulness meditation activates multiple
brain regions that contain a high expression of opioid receptors.” They also concluded from their research of
other studies that mindfulness meditation can reduce opioid use during pain management. Wake Forest medical school scientists also
reviewed the research for the use of mindfulness meditation for fibromyalgia. They found this form of meditation can reduce
pain and reduce the need for pain medication. Many other studies support these findings. A number of studies have concluded that yoga
can significantly help patients manage pain. Many have also concluded a reduction of pain
as a result of hatha yoga therapy. For example, a 2016 study from the San Diego
School of Medicine studied 150 veterans with chronic low back pain. Over a third of them were disabled or unable
to work. They were given yoga classes twice a week
for three months or the promise of future yoga treatment. After three months, those who underwent the
yoga classes had significant reductions in pain. These lower pain levels continued. After six months, the yoga participants had
significantly lower pain scores compared to the non-yoga group. Other studies have shown that hatha yoga reduces
pain and increases mobility. Massage offers a great facility for reducing
pain. This, of course, depends upon the type and
region of pain. But even massage that is focused on the body
as a whole as the effect of reducing pain and refocusing the body’s neural network. For example, a 2017 study from Indiana University
and Purdue University followed 76 patients with chronic pain for six months. They were directed to a massage therapist
for 10 massage sessions over a three month period. After six months, the researchers found that
over half had a significant improvement, while 40 percent saw clinical improvements, including
reductions in pain. Clinical research has shown that massage can
significantly reduce chronic low back pain. A significant amount of research has also
proven that acupuncture can be used to reduce severe and ongoing pain. Acupuncture has been used before, after and
even during surgery to reduce surgical pain. One study found that acupuncture beat pharmaceutical
pain medicine for reducing pain associated with sciatica. Cupping is another healing therapy utilized
by acupuncturists. Other research shows that cupping significantly
reduces pain associated with fibromyalgia, as well as neck and shoulder pain. Flotation therapy has also been shown to reduce
chronic pain. Flotation therapy consists of floating in
a tank of saline water designed to allow the body to lay on the surface of the water. Clinical research has shown that floatation
therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia. So what about herbs that help manage pain? Research has shown that a number of herbs
safely reduce pain. This is not always about dulling sensation. In many cases, herbal medicines stimulate
the body’s own healing mechanisms, allowing the body to more quickly heal the cause of
the pain. Most herbal medicines used for pain also reduce
inflammation. Because the body’s processes for inflammation
also stimulate the sensations of pain, reducing inflammation also can significantly reduce
pain. For example, herbal medicines used for pain
can in many cases inhibit pain enzymes such as cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase. Still other herbs will stimulate the production
of the Gamma-aminobutyric acid neurotransmitters within the nerves or simply bind with GABA
receptors. These all have the effects of reducing pain
sensation. Still other herbal medicines will reduce Substance
P – which is part of the inflammatory pain cycle. Let’s discuss a few of these pain-reducing
herbs: Willow bark – or Salix alba – contains, among
other compounds, natural salicylins. As mentioned briefly above, the isolation
of salicin from Meadowsweet and Willow eventually lead to the development of aspirin. Willow has been used for thousands of years
to help relieve different types of pain. Clinical research has shown that natural salicylin
contained in willow inhibit both cyclooxygenase enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2. However, other flavonoids in willow have also
been shown to inhibit COX enzymes. Randomized human clinical studies on willow
bark have shown pain-relieving effects that were similar to pain pharmaceuticals such
as rofecoxib. Other studies have shown willow reduces inflammation
and pain similar to celecoxib. Willow’s analgesic effects have been confirmed
by a number of clinical studies over the years – without the side effects experienced with
aspirin. A 2011 study that compared Willow to aspirin
concluded the following: “Flavonoids and polyphenols contribute to
the potent willow bark analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. The multi-component active principle of willow
bark provides a broader spectrum of action than aspirin and is devoid of serious adverse
events. In contrast to synthetic aspirin, willow bark
does not damage the gastrointestinal mucosa.” Meadowsweet contains many of the same salicins
that are in Willow bark. For this reason, Meadowsweet extracts were
used as analgesics in comparable settings with Willow prior to pharmaceutical companies’
analogue salicin products. And Meadowsweet provided the basis for the
1830 analogue that led to the Bayer company’s launch of Aspirin. Another pain-relieving herb is Derris scandens. A 2016 review of research showed that Derris
scandens treats muscle and joint pain similar to drug treatment. Ginger is another pain-relieving herb. Ginger contains many of pain-reducing constituents. Research has shown that Ginger matches or
exceeds NSAIDs for reducing arthritic pain and menstruation pain. Other research has shown that Ginger reduces
joint and muscle pain and headaches. Ginger also reduces inflammation and inhibits
both the COX-1 and the COX-2 enzymes. Essential oils Research has shown that oils of Lavender,
Clary Sage, and Rose help reduce pain. Desert spike is also called Chelledaghi in
the Middle East. A 2013 study showed the herb successfully
reduced pain while it also reduced infections after surgery in a study of 90 women. Studies have shown that Thyme oil helps relieve
pain associated with menstruation, even better than Ibuprofen. The roots of the Grapple Plant – also called
Devil’s Claw – have been investigated by German doctors for decades. The bulbs of the Grapple plant have been shown
to relieve pain associated with headaches, backaches, menstruation pain and joint pain. Clinical research has shown the plant reduces
inflammation as well as pain. The Biblical herb, Myrrh, is also called Guggulu
in Ayurvedic medicine. Myrrh was famously used by the Egyptians and
the Greeks three to five thousand years ago for a variety of inflammatory and pain conditions. These include joint pain and inflammation
associated with mucosal membranes. The Goldenrod herb is a member of the daisy
family and grows throughout North America. It was used by North American Natives for
toothaches, sore throats and nerve pain in other parts of the body. It was also used for anti-inflammatory and
antispasmodic. The Nettles herb is found throughout Europe
and North America and has been used to help relieve inflammation and joint pain. It has been an ancient cure for arthritic
pain and rheumatism. Frankincense is also called Boswellia in Ayurvedic
medicine. It is an ancient herbal remedy used for various
types of aches and pains. These include nerve pain and joint pain. Cayenne pepper has also been used for centuries
to reduce pain. Clinically it has been shown to inhibits the
production of Substance P within nerves – which reduces the transmission of pain. Turmeric has been used medicinally for thousands
of years, to reduce inflammation and pain. It reduces both LOX and COX type enzymes. It also reduces infection and speeds up wound-healing. Clinical research has shown Turmeric reduces
arthritis pain and menstrual pain. Tripterygium wilfordii is referred to as Lei
gone teng In Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Tripterygium herb has anti-inflammatory
effects as well as pain-relieving effects. It has been shown in clinical studies to reduce
joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The Feverfew herb has been used for headaches
and other types of pain for centuries. Research from Louisiana State University and
the UK’s University of Reading confirmed COX-2 inhibition from its constituents such
as parthenolide. Bakial Scullcap herb has also been studied
extensively. Research has confirmed that Bakail skullcap
significantly reduces inflammation and pain related to inflammatory conditions. Researchers have confirmed the herb inhibits
the COX-2 enzyme. Hops herb has also been researched for pain
reduction. University medical school researchers have
confirmed that the constituent from Hops – humulone – significantly inhibits the COX-2 enzyme. Whole herb Hops has also been shown to relieve
nerve pain and anxiety-related conditions. Ashwagandha herb has also been shown to reduce
inflammation and anxiety related to nerve pain. Ashwagandha has also been shown to bind with
GABA receptors. California poppy is unrelated to the opium
poppy. It is a completely different species of plant. It does, however have an analgesic effect
and a relaxing effect. For this reason it has been defined as a nervine
and pain reducer. Research has found it binds with the benzodiazepine
receptor and GABA receptors. The Kava root has been used for thousands
of years by Pacific Islanders for headaches and muscle pain. It has a sedative effect and provides muscle
relaxation. Research has shown it binds with GABA receptors. And Kava’s supposedly negative effects on
the liver have been refuted by recent research. While all these pain-relieving herbs do contain
specific constituents that reduce pain, the whole herbs will contain an array of different
constituents that help balance and neutralize the effects of the pain reduction, helping
to balance the body and reduce the causes of the pain. Furthermore, none of the pain-relieving herbs
mentioned here are known to be addictive. Hey thanks for tuning in. To keep up to date with future health news
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