by Dr. Bill Rawls
Using opioids to treat chronic pain doesn’t work — and it can make the pain worse. Dr. Bill Rawls explains why, plus shares safer, natural solutions for easing chronic pain such as CBD (cannabidiol from hemp).
Hello everyone. This is Dr. Bill Rawls with an opinion on the opioid crisis. I think everybody’s aware that we’ve got an opioid problem going on in the United States, Europe, and really worldwide.
Opioids are the same as narcotics. On the street, that’s heroin. In the hospital, it’s morphine injections. In doctors’ offices, it’s drugs like Percocet, an orally stable form of the narcotic that’s typically mixed with Tylenol or aspirin.
These drugs are really excellent for acute pain, for acute trauma, for use in the operating room and post-operative pain — in these cases they’re really essential. But opioids are really terrible for chronic pain, and that’s what they’re being used very widely for. Percocet prescriptions are very widespread across the country in primary care offices. They have been for 30 years. They just don’t work for chronic pain.
The problem is in the way that these drugs work. Any time you have a drug that has an effect like pain relief or anxiety relief, it’s typically hitting the receptors of some other chemical messenger in the body. In this case, it’s endorphins.
We all hear about endorphins. That’s what you get with a runner’s high. It’s what our body produces to keep us from being a bundle of pain all the time. If we didn’t have endorphins, we wouldn’t be able to get up out of the chair. We would hurt so badly. Endorphins just keep down that normal level of pain with movement.
Narcotics, morphine, heroin, all of these drugs basically act the same way as endorphins in our body. If you take it acutely for several days to a week, it’s okay. If you take opioids chronically, you start suppressing endorphins more, and more, and more, and more. You lower the person’s pain threshold until any amount of pain is excruciating.
They really end up working against you if you use them chronically, because you suppress the endorphins so much. That’s why they’re habituating: If you suppress endorphins, and then you take the narcotic away, people go through withdrawal symptoms and have terrible pain. It can be really disruptive to someone’s entire system.
There’s good evidence that for chronic pain, for conditions like fibromyalgia, opioids in the long run make people’s pain worse. That really makes sense, because if you use them on a regular chronic basis and suppress natural endorphins in the body, you need more, and more, and more of these drugs to work. Of course, you can only take so much. When somebody becomes habituated to these things, it’s a real problem. They not only have chronic pain, but then they also have this habituation with the drug to deal with, and if they don’t get the drug, they’re in really bad shape.
It’s really widespread. We see it all across the country. And once people get going, once they are habituated, they look for higher and higher doses, so they go to stronger and stronger drugs. There’s a higher and higher risk of overdose. These drugs can suppress respiration.
When you start looking for solutions, you have to ask the question, why do people want these drugs in the first place, especially in such a high demand? It has to do with the fact that we have, in addition to an opioid epidemic, we’ve got an inflammation epidemic in our country, and worldwide for that matter. People are in inflamed. They hurt. The foods they’re eating, the way they go about life, chronic stress, and all the daily things that come with modern living, cause us to have more pain than average.
We don’t like to hurt so we seek out solutions, and the easiest solution is a narcotic. All it takes is one prescription for Percocet to last a month, and somebody will be habituated for a lifetime. It’s really, really hard to get off these drugs. It has become a monumental problem.
When we come back around to addressing the problem, the solution isn’t just taking drugs away from people and keeping doctors from prescribing these drugs. The solution is recognizing that people are in pain because of chronic inflammation. We have to change their diet; we have to address stress and other factors that drive inflammation.
Herbal therapy is really wonderful for that. And as far as looking for alternatives to narcotics, CBD (cannabidiol from hemp) and possibly different forms of medical marijuana are a much better solution because they’re much less addicting. In fact, CBD has no habituating tendencies at all. It doesn’t cause respiratory depressions, so you can’t die from it. It will not kill you.
When we look towards solutions to this really bad epidemic problem, we’ve got to do more than just talk to doctors about not prescribing the drugs. We’ve got to, as a society, look at the problem and say, “Yes, we have a bigger problem here that people are inflamed.” They’re in pain and we have to reduce the inflammation and look for better solutions to the problem, rather than just the knee-jerk response of writing prescriptions for narcotics.