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Few people make it through the Appalachian Trail, let alone those struggling with pain. Adventurer, Gail Muller, reveals how CBD helped her tackle the trail – and why she plans to do it all again.
Author and adventurer, Gail Muller, was born with her feet turned inwards.
Although she was otherwise healthy, she had to have casts fitted to straighten them out. Gail went onto play sports as a teenager, but despite her active lifestyle, a specialist predicted that it would have a dramatic impact on her health in later life.
“[My doctors] made me walk on these machines so they could see how my hips and knees were working,” says Gail.
“The doctor said if I didn’t have my feet broken and reset then I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40.”
But Gail didn’t lose her sporty streak and even took up rowing while at university. It wasn’t until later in her 20s that the doctor’s prediction started to ring true, as she developed a pain in her hip.
“It started as pain in my right hip, in my back, legs and sciatica pain in my shoulder,” she explains.
“It was a really insidious creeping pain that I didn’t want to bother the doctor about. I thought it was because I was rowing a lot and had done too much, but stopping exercise didn’t help.”
Gail continues: “I was in teacher training at the time, so I was leaning over my marking books at night. I thought it could be that. I made every excuse under the sun for a pain that would not go away. There was a period of a few years where it ebbed and flowed before getting worse to the point that it was chronic. I had to [learn to] understand what a chronic condition was and that doctors often have no answers.”
Gail was given painkillers such as Gabapentin and nerve blockers, before her doctor eventually referred her to a pain clinic.
“The prediction had come true,” she says.
“The clinic told me to stop hoping things will get better because it was holding me back. They said I needed to accept that I could lose my job and the ability to walk’.”
A trip to Italy for teaching provided some relief for Gail, as she visited a chiropractor and a dentist who realigned her jaw and teeth.
She felt it helped to unwind 12 years of chronic pain, allowing her to start running and building her strength back up. That was when she discovered CBD oil.
“In learning more about CBD, I realised how wonderful it is as a component of a healing journey,” Gail says.
“It works well for me, as part of a busy working life where it keeps me focused and doesn’t change my energy levels. It turns down the pain in my body and helps me with what’s been building over the past few years, such as the chronic stress from the way the world is, or anxiety about deadlines.”
Despite the level of chronic pain she had been experiencing, Gail channelled her energy and love of sports into an adventure.
Aged 41, she decided to walk the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) a hiking trail in the US between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is no easy stroll, comprising of 2,190 miles.
It is estimated that only one in four hikers make it the entire way through and it can take five to seven months to complete. Gail decided not only to take on the trail but also to go southbound, the most difficult route.
The trail is notoriously dangerous. As well as the threat of horrendous weather, walkers can face bears and insects such as ticks which can lead to Lyme disease.
Gail explains: “There were rattlesnakes, and someone was murdered with a machete on the trail before I arrived. You would get flash warnings on your phone that told you if there was an escaped convict that may be on the trail but you never saw any of them.
“It was mostly bad weather, especially drought when the springs dried up which was scary. We would go without water for a long while. There were blizzards and lightning storms too.”
Then there were broken bones.
“If you get injured then you have very little way of being evacuated from the wilderness,” said Gail.
“I had to rest when I finished in January and February as my foot was broken in two places. I hadn’t realised I had walked for 850 miles with two broken bones.”
When Gail was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in late 2021, she realised that her love of hiking and being active allowed her to experience calmness.
“It was the need to calm down my chronically cycling thoughts which at the time I didn’t realise was ADHD. I kept pushing myself to take on stuff and do 20 different things at once,” she says.
“I had sorted out my chronic pain to the point where it was manageable, but I couldn’t stay in one place. When a friend of mine passed away, it changed my perspective. I realised I can walk every day for a long way which is doing something active yet feeling achievement with every step.”
Although Gail didn’t take CBD with her on the AT, she did take it when she walked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
“I took Ethica CBD’s calm and body tinctures with me to do the CDT,” she says.
“I had to wait for two weeks to cross the border into the US from Mexico because of Covid, which was very stressful. It wasn’t good for my mental health and the CBD helped me with those anxieties.
“When I started the Continental Divide there were forest fires, grizzly bears and that was so stressful. CBD helped me to sleep even when I was cramping with pain.”
Gail adds: “There are lots of things when you are hiking that cause your heart rate to go up. When you come around the corner, there could be a grizzly bear sitting in the pathway and they can kill you. You have bear sprays ready to deploy at them. It’s a stressful environment and CBD was with me the whole way.”
Never one to take much of a rest, Gail has a full line-up planned for 2022.
“I’m working on an online course for predominantly women, but for anyone who needs encouragement or coaching support to get outdoors,” she says.
“When it comes to trips, I am doing a park route through the footpaths of Cornwall to visit schools and talk about respecting nature and leaving no trace. I’m then going to hike the route around Mont Blanc; through Italy, Switzerland and France. It’s about 10 days, then I will be doing the GR20 which is the length of Corsica.
She adds: “This summer, I will also be returning to the US to volunteer for two weeks on the Appalachian Trail, helping to rebuild parts of the trail that have worn down.”
“I’m finally able to give something back to the trail that changed my life.”
Medical cannabis reduces pain and opioid use in cancer patients – study
Findings suggest that medicinal cannabis can be carefully considered as an alternative to the pain relief medicines.
Medical cannabis reduces cancer-related pain and the need for opiate-based painkillers, reveals a new study in oncology patients.
A comprehensive assessment of the benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain, has found that for most oncology patients, pain measures improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms also decreased, the consumption of painkillers was reduced, and the side effects were minimal.
Published in Frontiers in Pain Research, these findings suggest that medicinal cannabis can be carefully considered as an alternative to the pain relief medicines that are usually prescribed to cancer patients.
Pain, along with depression, anxiety, and insomnia, are some of the most fundamental causes of oncology patient’s disability and suffering while undergoing treatment therapies, and may even lead to worsened prognosis.
Author, David Meiri, assistant professor at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, explained: “Traditionally, cancer-related pain is mainly treated by opioid analgesics, but most oncologists perceive opioid treatment as hazardous, so alternative therapies are required.
“Our study is the first to assess the possible benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients; gathering information from the start of treatment, and with repeated follow-ups for an extended period of time, to get a thorough analysis of its effectiveness.”
Need for alternative treatment
After talking to several cancer patients, who were looking for alternative options for pain and symptom relief, the researchers were keen to thoroughly test the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis.
“We encountered numerous cancer patients who asked us whether medical cannabis treatment can benefit their health,” said co-author Gil Bar-Sela, associate professor at the Ha’Emek Medical Center Afula.
“Our initial review of existing research revealed that actually not much was known regarding its effectiveness, particularly for the treatment of cancer-related pain, and of what was known, most findings were inconclusive.”
The researchers recruited certified oncologists who were able to issue a medical cannabis license to their cancer patients. These oncologists referred interested patients to the study and reported on their disease characteristics.
Bar-Sela said: “Patients completed anonymous questionnaires before starting treatment, and again at several time points during the following six months. We gathered data on a number of factors, including pain measures, analgesics consumption, cancer symptom burden, sexual problems, and side effects.”
An analysis of the data revealed that many of the outcome measures improved, with less pain and cancer symptoms. Importantly, the use of opioid and other pain analgesics decreased.
In fact, almost half of the patients studied stopped all analgesic medications following six months of medicinal cannabis treatment.
“Medical cannabis has been suggested as a possible remedy for appetite loss, however, most patients in this study still lost weight. As a substantial portion were diagnosed with progressive cancer, a weight decline is expected with disease progression,” reported Meiri.
He continued: “Interestingly, we found that sexual function improved for most men but worsened for most women.”
Meiri would like future studies to dig deeper and look at the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in different groups of cancer patients.
“Although our study was very comprehensive and presented additional perspectives on medical cannabis, the sex, age, and ethnicity, as well as cancer types and the stage of the cancer meant the variety of patients in our study was wide-ranging. Therefore, future studies should investigate the level of effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in specific subgroups of cancer patients with more shared characteristics.”
Lack of research preventing wider prescribing of cannabis for arthritis
The review found limited progress in understanding the potential of cannabis for the treatment of pain.
A lack of research is preventing wider uptake of medical cannabis prescribing for arthritis pain, according to a new review published in the US.
A new review article has found that there has been limited progress in understanding the potential of cannabis-based therapies for the treatment of pain associated with rheumatic conditions in the past five years.
The article concluded that this is primarily due to a lack of standardisation of clinical research and barriers to conducting research due to existing federal and state regulations in the US.
The review, which was published by CreakyJoints, an international digital community for arthritis patients and caregivers, found that the legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis at a state level in the US reflects changing attitudes about cannabis as use of the drug increases across a broad range of conditions, including rheumatic diseases.
Unfortunately, while there is strong preclinical evidence showing that cannabis-based products play a role in alleviating pain and reducing inflammation, the highly variable state and federal statutes have limited patient-centred prospective research, education of clinicians and comfort of patients in disclosing their cannabis use to clinicians.
W. Benjamin Nowell, PhD, director of patient-Centered research at CreakyJoints said: “In 2019, CreakyJoints presented data from our ArthritisPower Research Registry study showing more than half of arthritis patients reported wanting information on or actually had tried cannabis and/or cannabidiol products for a purpose they perceived as medical – often for pain relief and help sleeping.
“Yet, three years later, there’s been virtually no advancement in the research necessary to provide clinical evidence that rheumatologists and patients need to make decisions about cannabis use for symptom relief in combination with approved treatments.”
He added: “Without this research, it is impossible to develop clinical guidelines for medicinal cannabis in the US, which is vital for patients seeking the full range of treatment options to explore in partnership with their physicians. The best way to treat rheumatic conditions is through the use of US Food and Drug Administration approved medications, which are backed by evidence demonstrating their effectiveness and safety profile.”
Only three cannabis-based medications are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, none of which are for the treatment of pain or other symptoms related to rheumatic conditions.
Lack of research stymying uptake of medical cannabis
Researchers draw attention to an array of studies that have shown that cannabinoids are effective in the laboratory at decreasing inflammation in cells and reducing inflammation and pain in mice and rats.
In addition, studies in humans that support efficacy are primarily surveys of people using medicinal marijuana who report relief of pain. However, in rheumatic diseases, there are very few studies of cannabis-based therapies in humans and the clinical trials conducted to date have small sample sizes and inconsistent methods.
“Although the clinical evidence about cannabis for rheumatic disease pain is lacking, it is nevertheless important to educate patients about the known benefits and risks of alternative treatments, including medical cannabis,” said Dr Stuart Silverman, rheumatologist, clinical professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA School of Medicine and medical director, OMC Clinical Research Center.
“As a rheumatologist who treats patients with pain, I am aware that some of my patients have found cannabis to be an effective option when traditional medications fail to reduce their pain.
“I am open to discussing medical cannabis when patients express an interest in its use. Then, if they choose to use it, I follow them closely to monitor efficacy and any side effects and to ensure that they do not consider it as a replacement for FDA-approved disease-modifying drugs.”
CreakyJoints recommends that rheumatologists and healthcare providers be prepared to “discuss medicinal cannabis with their patients in an empathetic, non-biased manner”.
Study shows safety of using cannabis with opioids
Findings suggest that CBD and THC are safe for use with opioid pain medication.
Researchers in the US have found that using cannabis with opioids does not increase the risk of addiction.
Findings from a new study suggest that CBD and THC might be safe for use with opioid pain medication, without increasing the risk of addiction.
Although more studies are needed, the results suggest that these compounds, found in cannabis, might be a low-risk way to reduce the dose of opioids needed to relieve pain.
The results show that CBD and THC do not enhance the rewarding effects of opioids, meaning that these compounds may not increase the risk for addiction when used in conjunction with opioid medications.
In the new study, the researchers gave rhesus monkeys the opportunity to choose a food reward or an injection of the opioid fentanyl.
They then tested whether CBD, THC or mixtures containing both compounds affected the number of times monkeys selected fentanyl over food.
They found that a wide range of doses of CBD or THC both alone or in a mixture did not increase or decrease the number of times they selected fentanyl.
Medical cannabis is often cited as an alternative pain reliever to opioid medication, with many patients finding they are able to reduce the number of opioids they are taking after being prescribed cannabis.
Lawrence Carey, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, said: “There is intense interest in using medical marijuana in patients with chronic pain because compounds in marijuana like CBD and THC may produce pain relief themselves or enhance the pain-relieving effects of opioids.
“This means people could potentially use lower doses of opioids and still get relief from pain. Taking less pain medication could also lead to a lowered risk of addiction or physical dependence to opioids.”
He continued: “Giving the animals the opportunity to choose between a drug injection and a food reward helped us to somewhat replicate choices a human drug user may face, such as whether to spend money on drugs or food.
“Having the option of responding for food is also useful for studying drugs like THC that produce sedative effects. It helps demonstrate the animal is reallocating behaviour from drug to food choice instead of simply shutting down response for a drug due to sedation.”
The researchers are now conducting other studies to assess whether CBD and THC can decrease signs of opioid withdrawal and relapse.
“A big reason why people continue to take opioids after they become addicted is the appearance of withdrawal symptoms,” said Carey.
“We are using what we learned from this study to determine whether these doses — which didn’t alter choice for food or drug rewards — may help relieve opioid withdrawal or decrease relapse and drug seeking behavior following periods of abstinence.”
The researchers caution that opioid use disorder is a complex disease and there are many factors to consider when developing a drug to treat it.
Although this study indicates that THC and CBD do not increase the rewarding effects of opioids, they say that before applying these findings to people, it will be necessary to determine whether these treatments alter other pathological processes involved with opioid use and to better understand any risks that may be associated with their use.
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