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 please hit the subscribe button. Take care of yourself..
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