ARE YOUR PAINKILLERS MAKING YOUR PAIN WORSE?

Is this scenario familiar? You are in pain, so you go to your GP and he or she gives you a prescription for painkillers. They help but a few weeks later the pain feels worse again, so you go back and get a stronger dose. A while later, the pain is bad again…a year or two down the line, and you are on a lot of different painkilling medications and still in pain – in fact the pain is worse than ever and it seems that your condition is deteriorating. That may indeed be the case in some instances, but ironically, in others, the increased pain may actually be CAUSED by your painkilling medicine.

Opiate (derived from opium poppies) or opioid (synthetic opiates) painkillers include codeine, co-codamol, morphine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol and fentanyl, and they are really effective for no more than a month or two; after that you develop a tolerance to them and to achieve the same effect, the dose has to be increased. And then increased again… Sufferers understandably believe they need stronger painkillers in ever stronger doses because they are getting worse.

Taking opiate painkillers actually increases your sensitivity to pain and decreases your natural ability to tolerate pain. The body stops producing endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) because it is receiving opiates instead. The brain increases the number of receptors for the drug, and the nerve cells in the brain cease to function normally. According to Roger Knaggs, associate professor of pharmacy at Nottingham University and a council member of the British Pain Society, opioids ‘up-regulate’ the body’s pain system so our natural painkilling chemicals, such as endorphins, become less sensitive and effective. He says “Patients affected by opioids in this way will often complain that the nature of their pain has changed or it has spread to other areas, but, in fact, this could be caused by their drugs”.

Separate from their pain-blocking interaction with receptors in the brain, opioids seem to reshape the nervous system to amplify pain signals, even after the original illness or injury subsides. A new study in rats demonstrated that an opioid sets off a chain of immune signals in the spinal cord that amplifies pain rather than dulling it, even after the drug leaves the body. The experiment induced neuropathic pain (the kind that might be experienced from traumatic nerve injury, stroke or nerve damage caused by diabetes) by loosely constricting the sciatic nerve in the thighs of rats. The rats received morphine or a saline control for five days via injections under the skin. As expected, the neuropathic pain due to sciatic nerve constriction continued for another four weeks in the rats that had received the saline, but for the rats that had received morphine, the neuropathic pain continued for 10 weeks – the five-day morphine treatment more than doubled the duration of neuropathic pain. A separate experiment in the same study showed that morphine also worsened neuropathic pain, an effect that lasted for more than a month after morphine treatment had ended.

It used to be thought that pain signalling was a dialogue between nerves, but it has now been shown that it involves glial cells, which provide nutritional support for nerves and clear away metabolic waste. Glia recognize chemical signals from nerves and respond by releasing chemical immune signals that influence communication between nerves. With abnormal pain signalling from nerves, glia respond by turning up the volume in spinal cord pain pathways. This results in the adaptations of painful sensations being exaggerated. Opioids are also a chemical signal for glia. In the study, when morphine was administered in the presence of neuropathic pain, the glial cells went into overdrive. The glia released more immune signals, keeping the ‘pain volume’ turned up higher and for longer.  After morphine, the researchers found, those pain-activated glial cells became more sensitive to the next pain stimuli. As the researchers put it, “Opioids exaggerate pain.”

Sometimes people are surprised to discover that when they stop taking opioid medicines, their pain goes away or at least is substantially reduced. Many GPs and therapists have encountered the sheer panic, distress and numerous justifications for continuance from patients when it is suggested that their pain medication is not helping and should be stopped or reduced. This is partly because the patient naturally fears the pain will get worse, but mostly because they are now physically and emotionally addicted to the painkiller.  Even the lower dose 8mg codeine or 8/500 co-codamol available to buy from pharmacies can become addictive after just three days of use.

No one should just stop taking opioid painkillers but must work out a scheduled withdrawal programme under the supervision of their GP. The degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain causes a physical dependency on an external supply of opiates, so reducing or stopping intake of the drug causes a painful series of physical changes called the withdrawal syndrome. ‘Going cold turkey’ is associated with intense withdrawal symptoms which can be prolonged, characterized by severe discomfort, including diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramping, vomiting, runny nose, eye tearing, yawning, sweating, agitation, restlessness, twitching and tremors, back and bone pain, and intense craving for the drug. The patient takes the pills and feels better, so assumes that the medication is working, when it is only staving off withdrawal.

The use of opioids has serious side effects. Opioids affect the area of the brain responsible for respiration and some can depress the rate of breathing, occasionally leading to accidental death. Other side-effects include constipation and drowsiness, impairment of the immune system making people more prone to infections and an increased risk of heart disease. They also reduce levels of oestrogen and testosterone.

Opiate/opioid painkillers have an important place in medicine, but where they were once only prescribed short term after trauma injury or as palliative care for people dying of cancer, in recent years they have been increasingly prescribed for long term conditions such as back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and endometriosis. So why are GPs writing out more opioid prescriptions than ever? The trouble is that when a patient presents with pain, the hard pressed GP has few options. There is no time in a 10 minute consultation to talk to patients about lifestyle choices such as exercise, diet, physical therapies, giving up smoking or losing weight, which can all affect pain, and little option in today’s cash-strapped NHS to send people to physiotherapists or pain clinics, so the GP has to reach for the prescription pad. Now they have been advised not to prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs to some patients because of concerns about a higher risk of gastric bleeding and heart attacks, or paracetamol, which is associated with an increased risk of gastric bleeding, cardiovascular disease and impaired kidney function, they are left wondering what they can do for patients for long-term pain.

In the USA, the latest CDC guidelines state that opioids should be avoided if possible, with the exception of cancer pain and end-of-life palliative care.

REFERENCES

https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/pain-medication/pain-killer-addiction-treatment
http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/why-taking-morphine-oxycodone-can-sometimes-make-pain-worse
Morphine paradoxically prolongs neuropathic pain in rats by amplifying spinal NLRP3 inflammasome activation http://www.pnas.org/content/113/24/E3441
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3470091/Opioid-painkillers-make-chronic-pain-worse-Endorphins-effective-make-people-sensitive.html#ixzz4pjVcntKH
http://theconversation.com/do-opioids-make-pain-worse-60587

Flax and the Weaver Goddess

Linen, the oldest known textile, is made from the flax plant. Its association with mankind goes back to around 8000 BC with the cloth being used by prehistoric cave dwellers in Europe. Fragments of clothing, linen fishing nets and unworked flax have been found in Switzerland in the remains of Stone Age lake dwellings, and decorated spindle whorls (holed stones used to weight the spindle whilst spinning thread) have been found in prehistoric cave dwellings. Linen shrouds and seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs, several of which depict flax cultivation in the wall decorations. Homer mentions white linen sails in the Odyssey and the plant is mentioned several times in the Bible, including the ‘fine twined linen’ prescribed for the temple veil. A passage in Joshua describes the flax being pulled and tied in bundles and retted in water for several weeks, a method still used today.

Spinning and weaving was always the business of women. Girls were taught the arts as part of their rite of passage at puberty. We still call the female side of the family ‘the distaff side’.

The circular action of the spinning wheel is associated with the turning of the zodiac through the heavens, the turning of day and night, the passage of the seasons and the cycle of life itself.  The movement of the spindle, both back and forth and in a circular motion, is sometimes seen as an image of the cosmos, making the continuous thread of life.  For this reason the flax is sacred to the Weaver Goddess, who spins the thread of life and weaves the fabric of the cosmos, the warp and weft of fate. The Weaver Goddess appears in many mythologies in various forms.  In Greek myth the Three Fates or Moerae appear, always clothed in white. Their Greek name means ‘phase’ as in the phases of the moon, the spinner and measurer of time. The thread of life is spun on Clotho’s spindle, measured by the rod of Lachesis and snipped by Atropos’ shears.  In stature Atropos was the smallest of the three, but by far the most feared, relating as she does to the crone of winter, the death goddess. According to Greek custom, family and clan marks were woven into a baby’s swaddling bands, allotting him his place in society. The Three Fates of Greek myth are paralleled in Norse lore by the Three Norns who weave the web of fate.

The weaver goddess is always associated with magic.  The Egyptian Isis was the patroness of weaving but she also wove magic and could heal, while Meith was also known as a magician and her symbol was a weaver’s shuttle. She was titled ‘The Opener of the Ways’ and conducted souls to the underworld. This idea of following a linen thread into or out of the underworld is echoed in other myths such as Ariadne leading Theseus out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur by means of a thread, and the witch goddess Hecate leading the corn goddess Demeter into the underworld with a thread to find her daughter Persephone. The latter was re-enacted by the initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries.

The growing of flax was surrounded with ritual. The old Prussians performed a ceremony to make the crops grow high.  The tallest girl of the village stood on one foot on a seat, with a lap full of cakes, a cup of brandy in her right hand and a piece of elm or linden bark in her left, praying to the god Weizganthos that the flax might grow as high as she was standing.  She would then drain the cup, have it refilled and pour it onto the ground as an offering to the god.  Then she threw down the cakes for his sprites.  If she managed to remain steady on one foot, it was a good omen.  If she put her left foot down, it was an omen that the crop might fail. This standing on one foot is a shamanic practice and denotes having one foot in the manifest world and one foot in the Otherworld. In the Tyrol, a fir tree was topped with a figure called ‘a witch’ and burned on the first Sunday in lent.  The embers were planted in the flax fields to keep vermin away. When the flax waved in the wind, the people of Magdeburg said: ‘It will be a good year for flax.  The flax mother has been seen.’ In Swabia, young men and women would join hands and leap the midsummer fire, shouting ‘Flax, flax, may the flax this year grow seven ells high.’  In Switzerland the fire was leapt over as high as possible to make the flax grow.

Linen robes make one of the best magical garments. A linen thread may be employed in initiation rituals where the candidate must find his or her way to the centre of a maze, or flax threads may be woven by members of a magical group in a ritual to bind them to each other in friendship. Flax may be used in an incense, an infused oil or an infusion to consecrate the ritual wheel or sun/moon disc or zodiac symbol.  Flax incense may be used to invoke the Goddesses Arachne, Athene, Arianrhod, Brighid, the Fates, Frigg, Hulda, Inanna, Isis, Meith, Minerva, Neith and the Norns. Flax may also be used in incenses of the planet Mercury and the element of fire or be thrown onto the ritual fire at Midsummer. Linen fibre from the perennial flax can be used to make paper for magical scripts.

The common flax is also used medicinally. Country people would boil the fresh, whole herb and take it for rheumatic pains, colds, coughs and dropsy. Linseed oil, made from flax seeds, is added to cough medicines and used medicinally as an infusion for the treatment of colds, coughs, catarrh, bronchitis, urinary infections and pulmonary infections. The infusion can be used externally for boils, ulcers, cuts and inflammations. For a poultice the seeds can be boiled until soft or they can be pulverised and placed between two gauzes applied as hot as tolerable to rheumatic aches and pains or applied when cooler for ulceration, inflammation, irritation and pain.

CAUTION: IMMATURE SEEDS CAN BE POISONOUS

 

 

 

 

Summer Roses

The garden is full of roses this week. They flop over the fences and scramble up the trellis, their soft, sensual blooms filling the air with a voluptuous perfume. It is easy to understand why they are sacred to so many gods and goddesses of love – Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, Eros, Cupid, Inanna and Ishtar to name just a few. I bless the plants and gather armfuls of flowers.

I take them into the house and lay them on the kitchen table and begin to separate the red flowers from the white. I’m reminded that in one Greek tale, when the goddess Aphrodite first arose from the ocean and stepped onto the shore, the sparkling sea foam fell from her body in the form of pale white roses and took root, but later, as she pursued the beautiful youth Adonis, she caught herself on a thorn and her blood dyed the roses crimson red, symbolising innocence turned to desire and maidenhood turned to womanhood. [1] For magical purposes, while my white roses stand for purity, perfection, innocence, virginity and the moon, the red roses represents earthly passion and fertility. Wound together, they signify the union of opposites, symbolism we use at Beltane to celebrate the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess, an act which reconciles male and female, summer and winter, life and death, flesh and spirit, and brings about all creation, driven by the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe – love.

It was Midsummer a short while ago, and roses often play a part in our solstice ritual since, like other flowers with rayed petals, they are an emblem of the sun. Like the sun, which dies each night and is reborn each day at sunrise, the rose is an emblem of renewal, resurrection and eternal life, which is why the Celts, Egyptians and Romans used them as funeral offerings. [2] [3] [4]

I’m still left with an abundance of blossoms. I take down two clean glass jars from my cupboard and pack both of them with the scented petals I carefully pull from the stems. One jar I top up with white vinegar and set it on the sunny kitchen windowsill. I will leave it there for two weeks before straining the liquid into a clean jar. My resulting rose vinegar can be used as a delicate salad dressing, as an antiseptic wash for wiping down my kitchen surfaces, or dabbed onto my forehead to relieve headaches.  The second jar of rose petals I fill up with one part distilled water to three parts vodka.  I label it and put it in a cool, dark place in my pantry where it will stay for three weeks. When it is ready, I will strain the liquid into a clean jar, and lo and behold, I have made my own rose hydrosol.  I use it just as it is as a skin toner, but I could chill it to make a compress for puffy eyes, or use it as a final conditioning rinse for my hair. Next month I will incorporate some into skin lotions and creams.

The gorgeous fresh petals I have left could be baked into cakes and cookies, made into a delicate jam or a wine for next year’s Midsummer solstice, or crystallised for cake decorations.  Tonight I will drop some petals into my bath to make a relaxing soak after a hard day in the garden, and before I go to bed I will put a handful into the teapot and infuse them in boiling water to make a subtle, fragrant tea, which is mildly sedative and good for tension headaches.

I spread out more petals on a tray and put them to dry in the airing cupboard. These dried petals are not only good for rose tea later in the year and the usual potpourri, but can be employed in magical talismans, charm bags and incense –  red for love, yellow for Midsummer, renewal and the sun, and white for moon rituals. So many virtues in just one plant, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what the rose has to offer. Each day, Mother Nature has a different gift for me.

[1] Jennifer Peace Rhind, Fragrance & Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche, Singing Dragon, London, 2013
[2] Miranda Green, Gods of the Celts, Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1986
[3] Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, The Ultimate Guide to Roses, Macmillan, London, 2004
[4] Laurie Brink and Deborah Green, Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context. Studies of Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials, de Gruyter, Berlin, 2008

 

SENSATIONAL SAGE

Sage is a hardy, aromatic, evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 1-3 ft. The common sage is a native of the Mediterranean. It likes a position in full sun and light, well-drained soil. Plants should be cut back after flowering. For drying purposes the leaves should be harvested just before the plant flowers. They should be dried slowly to avoid mould forming and then crumbled and stored in an airtight container.

Cooks use the leaves and stems with meats, in stews and soups, with cheese, pasta, in herb butter and in stuffings.  Make a sage honey by infusing the leaves in gently warmed honey – this is good for coughs, and can be used to dress desserts. The plant also is brewed to make tea.  Sage leaves and flowers can be frozen in ice cubes and added to summer drinks.

Add the fresh leaves to the bath for an invigorating wash. It is a natural disinfectant and deodoriser. Used as a rinse, an infusion of sage leaves benefits the hair and darkens greying hair. Sage can be made into a cleansing lotion or used in an astringent facial steam it will tighten the pores.

Sage is used for coughs and colds, or use the infusion as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, and as a mouthwash for inflamed gums and mouth ulcers. Sage tea helps menopausal women with hot flushes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms – sip the tea during the day. An infusion of the leaves is useful for the treatment of diarrhoea, depression, rheumatism, anaemia, menstrual problems, and migraine, for lowering fevers, and indigestion.  It also helps improve the memory and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Externally it can be used as a wash for acne, eczema, wounds, scabs, insect bites and stings. Sage is antiseptic. The fresh leaves can be rubbed on stings or bites.

Making Cold Infused Oils

Fats and oils extract the oily and resinous properties of a herb, and these are often the antibacterial, antifungal and wound-healing components we really want.

Choose your leaves or flowers. Don’t wash them before use – not only will this destroy some of their delicate oils, but as soon as you introduce water into the mixture, you are setting it up to develop mould. (One of my friends was complaining that his nettle oil had an unpleasant odour, which it really shouldn’t, nettle has a fresh, rather lovely scent as an oil. I discovered that he had been rinsing the herbs before packing them in the jar.) To avoid this, make sure you pick your herbs on a dry, sunny day, and pick them from an unpolluted location

To make your cold infused oil, take your fresh herbs, cut them up, pack them tightly into  a glass jar, and cover with vegetable oil (olive, sunflower etc.). Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean, dry jar, label and keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Infused herbal oils may be used as they are or thickened into salves with beeswax. Unlike essential oils, they do not need to be diluted for use.

Primrose – the Fairy Flower

I love primroses, they tell us that the tides of spring and summer are turning, and they have such a magical reputation. In Ireland they are called ‘fairy flowers’ and it is said that eating them is a sure way to see fairies. According to legend, if you touch a fairy rock with the right number of primroses in a posy, it will open to fairyland and fairy gifts, but the wrong number opens the door to doom.

They are very much associated with the currents of lusty fertility that surround Beltane. Shakespeare wrote about the “the primrose path of dalliance”, in Hamlet, and to present a woman with a bunch of primroses, was to comment on her morals!

This time of year I always make infused primrose oil to use in skin care products, as they are great for mature and dry skin. Not many people realise they both the leaves and flowers are edible, and make a pretty addition to salads. I also like to crystallise the flowers to use for pretty cake decorations.

A cup of tea, make from the leaves or flowers is a mild painkiller, and can help a headache.

Caution: Avoid medicinal use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, sensitive to aspirin or taking anti-coagulant drugs.

Calendula Treats for Your Skin

Calendula has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. As lotion, cream or ointment it speeds up healing and counters infection in sunburn, minor burns, insect bites and stings, acne, cuts, abrasions, inflamed rashes, nappy rash, haemorrhoids and varicose veins. Make sure you correctly identify your plant as Calendula officinalis, the pot marigold.

Calendula Infusion

1 oz. dried herb or 2 oz. chopped fresh herb

1 pint boiling water

Put the herbs in ceramic heatproof pot and pour on the boiling water. Cover (or put the lid on the teapot) and infuse for 20 minutes, covered. Strain before use. Will keep about two days in the fridge. Calendula flower infusion, applied externally, is excellent for the treatment of burns, wounds, conjunctivitis, varicose veins, bed sores, ulcers, bruises, gum inflammations, corns, warts, eczema and skin rashes. Calendula has anti-fungal actions and can be used externally for athlete’s foot pour into a foot bath and soak for 15 minutes daily), ringworm and as a douche for vaginal thrush.

Calendula Infused Oil

Calendula is good for any skin type but especially dry, acne-prone or aging skin, soothing, cooling and plumping it up. To use it, you can make a calendula infused oil. Fats and oils extract the oily and resinous properties of an herb, and these are often the antibacterial, antifungal and wound-healing components. To make a cold infused oil cut up the herb and cover with vegetable oil (olive, sunflower etc.) in a glass bottle or jar, Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean jar. Infused herbal oils may be used as they are, applied directly to the skin. Unlike essential oils, they do not need to be diluted for use.

Calendula Salve

You can also thicken your oil into a salve by warming it gently, and adding beeswax. When the beeswax has melted, remove from the heat and pour into clean glass jars.  The more wax you add, the harder the set. This will keep at least a year.