With the ongoing opioid crisis showing no signs of stopping, more and more people are prudently turning away from the use of strong painkillers and looking for alternative pain management approaches. This is not exactly new territory. There have always been people who don’t want to treat their pain with drugs, due not only to their potential for addiction, but also their limited effectiveness—and the simple fact that chemically altering your neural receptors does nothing to take away the source of your pain. Imagine that! If there’s any plus side to the opioid crisis, it’s the amazing research that’s being done into pain relief.
Stem Cell Research
In clinical research, a 2016 study from the Duke School of Medicine presented a study that looked at the use of stem cells in treating neuropathic pain. Bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs) were injected into “patients” (mice) with injury-induced nerve pain. Those that received the stem cells measured higher levels of pain relieving anti-inflammatory molecules in their spinal fluid—molecules we know to be associated with pain relief. This was not the first study to associate BMSCs with neuropathic pain relief and inflammation, but it did shed light on the mechanisms that make them a promising innovation in the world of pain relief.
In 2017, Jay Joshi, MD and CEO of the National Pain Centers presented an overview of the research into their use of stem cells in regenerative medicine and treating non-resolving inflammation. His patients were treated with autologous stem cell therapy, in which the cells are taken from a patient’s adipose tissue and transplanted back into the damaged tissues.
While these studies are pointing in a positive direction, no specific stem cell therapies have been cleared for pain management. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the International Society for Stem Cell Research have published a patient handbook on stem cell therapies, so it’s worth reading before you try a clinical trial or untested stem cell therapy with your local pain clinic.
In the world of supplements, the hottest topic of conversation today is cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil. This compound is derived from marijuana plants, yet contains little to no tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC) and therefore causes no psychoactive effects. This means it may offer the medical benefits of the plant, without the side effects that make it a controlled substance.
Of course, we still don’t know what the actual medical benefits of marijuana are, from an empirical perspective, since its banned federal status means no one is allowed to conduct clinical research into its use!
Some studies and (heaps and heaps of anecdotal evidence) point to its use in treating chronic pain, cancer-related pain, and arthritis pain. This may be possible due to its anti-inflammatory properties or its ability to activate certain serotonin receptors. We don’t know, so we don’t know!
A lack of clinical research hasn’t stopped people from conducting their own research, however, and many are singing the praises of CBD oil—from athletes to grannies. Among the evidence-based claims its promoters are touting, CBD oil may be able to benefit pain relief and inflammation, as well as anxiety, nausea, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular health. If you decide to conduct your own research, clear it with your doctor first to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any medications you are taking and be sure you are using it appropriately.
About the Author: Dr. Mickiewicz owns a private practice in Sacramento and lectures across the nation on TMD treatments. He is a diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management and holds membership in many professional associations for dentistry, sleep medicine, and TMD. In addition, Dr. Mick, as his patients call him, founded Pacific Orofacial Pain Consultants, a team of experts in various disciplines, who tackle the issue of TMD pain and treatment, to help sufferers find relief from chronic pain. To talk with Dr. Mick, call his Sacramento dental office at 916-469-9178.