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Alternatives to Opioids – Solutions from the Summer of Love

Mental Health & Wellness
Mental Health & Wellness
July 31, 2023
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Many moons ago in a land far far away, 1967 to be precise, was the Summer of Love. During this time, which was a counterculture response to multiple political and socio economic events, members of the counterculture group would gather and among other things would consume cannabis and psilocybin, commonly known as marijuana and shrooms respectively. This public view of dirty hippies smoking dope and listening to the music of the time would be how their movement would be painted for the remaining half century. Prescriptions were fine, but drugs were bad. Even before the late ‘60s so called “recreational” drug use was frowned upon, so much so that politicians have frequently used drugs as a convenient pawn in their campaigns. Cannabis was made both a Schedule 1 narcotic and called marijuana as a way for a politician in the 1930’s to paint it as Hispanic, and made claims that it made Mexican people who smoked it  bloodthirsty and violent. 

Due to these and many other factors, the ability of modern medicine to properly research and experiment using the component chemicals has been effectively hamstrung into a few small, tightly controlled studies. If the question you’re asking yourself is “who cares, they’re just for getting high” you would be missing the point like missing the forest for the trees. While a great many areas could benefit from these two drugs, I will pick a few relevant and pressing issues to cover. 

First, our current pain management system in the United States is effectively trash. Either meds are too weak to provide much real relief, or they are highly addictive and create any number of complications. As for anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and similar conditions, the medications available again cause a host of additional problems, and the amount required to have a noticeable effect causes a feeling of being chemically dulled down. Neither of these are effective methodologies, but they do generate profits. 

Cannabis is the source of two distinct chemicals: THC and CBD. To dramatically oversimplify, THC is what makes you feel “high”, and CBD causes a relaxed state and then levels you off. CBD is generally unlikely to cause a “stoned” feeling on its own, but it does look likely to assist as an anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure medication. THC on the other hand, can be properly distilled to provide a mild hallucinatory or mood-altering effect, as well as pain blocking properties.

Studies in limited quantities have shown that both can calm anxiety disorders and aid with the management of chronic pain, without the same risks of complications or of becoming dependent on the substances. If for example a veteran has a chronic pain in his or her knee, a prescribed amount of properly processed THC would alleviate the pain while the “high” would be minimal or nonexistent, while being both cheaper and safer for the patient. 

Psilocybin, the primary hallucinogen found in certain types of mushrooms responsible for “tripping” can be even more effective in its use. While attempting to treat post traumatic stress disorder, everything from talk therapy to electroconvulsive therapy (back when that was common) was attempted, with very dubious results. 

Recently, a veteran with severe and persistent PTSD, for whom no other treatment had much effect if any, participated in a limited trial using small doses of psilocybin. The treatment plan was to start with a very small amount, and then slowly increase that amount over time. Unfortunately for the study, but fortunately for the patient, only one treatment was required. Like a mental reboot, the drug essentially allowed his brain to recategorize the priority of his intrusive condition to minimum. After this reset, the patient was returned to a pre-PTSD level of function. 

While it could be a rare side effect or the primary function of the psilocybin to cause this reboot remains to be seen. In either circumstance, given the nature of the condition and the efficacy of the experiment, it warrants further study.

At the end of the day, objections to scientific advancement cannot be made based on money or false morality from public perception. If these treatments can be properly regulated and administered safely to dramatically improve the lives of veterans and the public at large, not studying this potential is a near criminal act. Next time a vote comes up, write or call your elected representatives and let them know where you stand, and slowly but surely we can push the research ahead. 

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