Chronic pain can be a very devastating diagnosis. For those of us without this condition, it’s hard to imagine what someone with chronic pain is going through. Chronic pain is usually secondary to some form of trauma, making a bad situation far worse. Imagine the worst pain you have every experienced and then try to imagine having that pain day in and day out for months or worse, for years.
Imagine not being able to sleep and becoming chronically sleep deprived. Imagine not being able to find a comfortable position to sit, stand or sleep. Imagine your significant other or children wanting your attention and you not having the capacity to give any. Imagine not being able to have enjoyable sex with the one you love. Experiencing chronic pain continuously changes you. It will make you crazy. Depression and anxiety are commonplace among this patient population
While physicians have access to tools to deal with pain, chronic pain is resistant to a quick fix. Interventional procedures, surgery, physical therapy and pain medications have historically been the go-to therapies to address pain. Historically, because they are accessible and inexpensive, narcotics – particularly opioid narcotics—have also been one of the go-to therapies.
Given the opioid crisis, physicians are less likely to lead with narcotics, and some of us are deciding not to prescribe them altogether. The problem with narcotics is that they work. They work really well. Sometimes too well, leading to a patient becoming so comfortable they “forget” to breathe. So, while reducing the amount of narcotics prescribed to patients is a good thing, the problem is physicians don’t have a lot of good alternatives to recommend to their patients, until now.
Not all of America has access to medical cannabis yet, but the whole country has access to hemp-derived CBD. The eight pain clinics that I run in North Carolina have been recommending CBD to patients for a couple of years now and observing some incredible results. We continue to learn everyday what CBD can and can’t do for our patients in chronic pain.
Shortly after our exposure to hemp and CBD, we conducted a study on 100 patients early and learned some valuable lessons. Our patients’ lives improved in multiple ways including sleep, anxiety relief and hope. The patients began calling hemp a “miracle plant,” and we can understand why.
Sleep is an extremely important aspect of life. It is the time our bodies and brains rejuvenate ourselves and prepare us for the next day. Without good quality sleep, the toll on our bodies and mental capacities really adds up. But CBD helps with sleep. On average, our patients’ sleep duration grew from 4 ½ to 6 hours, and they reported that the quality of sleep was significantly improved. Patients even told us that they started remembering dreams, which was a surprise for them. Given the amount of medications these patients take, it’s no wonder many of them had not dreamed in years.
Chronic pain wears on your nerves. It is common for patients to experience severe anxiety. Historically, patients have been prescribed benzodiazepines (Valium and Xanax) to deal with this problem. Unfortunately, the combination of narcotics and benzos has led to increased overdose deaths. During our study it was clear that our patients experienced less anxiety. Instead of reaching for a friend’s benzo or alcohol to deal with their anxiety, they instead started reaching for their CBD oil.
Chronic pain leads to a feeling of despair and hopelessness. One wonders if the pain will ever end? Will I ever get my life back? An unexpected finding during our study was that our patients were coming back to us saying they were hopeful. Instead of their glass being half empty, it was now half full. Hope is powerful. When you have hope, your mind starts to work for you instead of against you. You start to imagine that things can be different. You find the motivation to get off the couch and get busy living instead of waiting to die. This feeling of hope inspired these patients to start engaging in activities we had encouraged them to do for years, like doing yoga, eating healthier, losing weight and moving more.
Our initial assessment of pain relief was at first disappointing. We typically only see a 10-20 percent pain reduction on average when a patient uses CBD. While some patients reported complete resolution of their pain, that was the exception, not the rule. Patients with a strong inflammatory component or fibromyalgia seem to get the best results.
As we continue to work with CBD our knowledge of the power of this plant is growing as well. We are obtaining much better results as we work with our patients to think themselves out of pain. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Chronic pain changes the brain and lays down dysfunctional pathways. CBD promotes neuroplasticity and neurogenesis – the formation of new brain cells that develop into new pathways of thinking. We are encouraged and excited to continue to work with CBD to maximize its potential to address chronic pain.
If you are living with chronic pain, hemp offers you hope. CBD can be purchased online or over the counter in many forms in every state in the U.S., and many places around the world. The good news is CBD has a very broad safety profile, and you should feel comfortable trying it. Dosing is going to be a key, and we’ll discuss that in a later column. Taking too much won’t harm you, but it might not help you either. Please be sure to talk to your physician about CBD. In my next column, I will offer some tips for having this conversation, particularly if you feel awkward about cannabis or hemp, or suspect your doctor might react badly to your interest.