Due to the opioid epidemic, more people are turning to opioid alternatives to alleviate their pain. But are they effective? Do the alternatives to opioids present dangers of their own?
Some people turn to herbs like kratom or other natural remedies like CBD (cannabidiol) oil to manage their pain instead of using opioids. There are also medical treatments people can discuss with their doctors, such as certain types of injections, implantable pain pumps, or spinal cord stimulation.
For some people, a combination of alternative treatments is the most beneficial.
Some people start using opioids to relieve pain related to various chronic and acute conditions. With regular use, tolerance forms, prompting users to take higher doses than prescribed to experience the same level of relief.
Other people abuse opioids to experience the euphoria and relaxation that these drugs can provide.
In the U.S., more than 2 million people abuse opioids.
No matter why someone started using opioids, addiction can take hold quickly once abuse begins.
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Opioids can cause a variety of undesirable effects that can adversely impact the quality of life. Some of the short-term effects that can occur are:
As tolerance forms, the degree of pain relief may lessen, and if the dosage is raised, side effects may worsen. This often leads people to seek out alternatives to opioids.
Those who have struggled with opioid abuse and addiction in the past often need to avoid opioids for pain management.
Kratom is an herb that gained some popularity when the U.S. government tried to ban it in 2016. The efforts to ban this plant eventually failed, but some states do not allow companies to ship kratom to residents within the state.
Kratom is often used by people who are relief from pain. Some people who are addicted to opioids report that it may help to ease withdrawal symptoms during the detox period. Some researchers caution that people using kratom to replace opioids may find themselves dependent on kratom.
Kratom has two primary alkaloid compounds that are responsible for its effects.
They are 7-hydroxymitragynine and mitragynine. Both of these compounds attach to opioid receptors as heroin and prescription opioids do, and this allows for pain relief and a reduction in withdrawal symptoms.
CBD oil is another natural remedy that people say helps them with their pain. The research has not made a definitive statement on its efficacy, though some preliminary evidence suggests it may be beneficial for arthritis pain.
One study was performed to look at using CBD for opioid withdrawal. The study concluded that it might reduce cravings for opioids when someone is in recovery.
The results were compared to people who received no treatment and those who got a placebo.
When back pain is moderate to severe, doctors often prescribe opioids to help people. About 20 percent of people who take opioids long-term develop a substance use disorder related to their use.
Some injection procedures may help with certain types of pain in the joints or back. For example, if someone has a herniated disc in the lower spine that is irritating nerves, an injection of steroids into the epidural space may alleviate the inflammation and reduce pain.
The following injection procedures may help people with back pain to reduce their need for prescription opioids:
All of these procedures are typically done on an outpatient basis. Doctors use a type of x-ray called a fluoroscope to guide the needle to the precise area where the medicine needs to go. This ensures that it is delivered accurately, so the injection has the best chance of providing pain relief. Most of these injections can also be used to diagnose the source of a patient’s pain.
A few other options may provide some pain relief, especially for those experiencing back pain. These include radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulation, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
Consult with your doctor if you are considering using an alternative to opioids for pain relief. Your doctor will assess your situation and the substance you want to use, and determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.
If the alternative is deemed viable and safe, it may be a good solution to get you off opioids.
Most often, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes that support pain relief. These might include regular exercise, physical therapy, yoga, meditation, and daily stretching.
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