Chinese Medicine Vs. the Opioid Epidemic Part II

Morphine is the prototypical opioid and is the standard against which all other opioids are tested. Morphine was first isolated in 1803 by Friedrich Sertürner this is generally believed to be the first isolation of an active ingredient from a plant.

Going straight to human trials, Sertürner tested small doses of morphine on himself and “some boys” and found that the effects of the drug were pain relief and euphoria. He also noted that high doses of the drug could lead to negative psychiatric effects, nausea, vomiting, depression, cough, constipation and slowed breathing. Pain relief with the use of this compound, however, was ten times greater than that experienced with opium use.

The pharmaceutical company Merck began marketing the drug commercially in 1827.  Sertürner originally named the substance morphium after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus, as it has a tendency to cause sleep. Physicians labeled the drug as “God’s own medicine” for its reliability, long-lasting effects, and “safety”. Morphine became more widely used after the invention of the hypodermic syringe in 1853 which happened to coincide with the advent of the American Civil War. Thousands of civil war soldiers, who were wounded during combat, or more commonly became sick in camps, were first dosed with morphine in field hospitals during the war. Many came home struggling with addiction to narcotics that were first tasted on the battlefield or in a hospital.

Since about 1596 Chinese doctors had been using different types of pain relievers primarily from the class of medicinals that invigorate blood. There are many herbals medicines in this category but one of the most useful and most promising in modern times is Corydalis rhizome or Yan Hu Suo. Corydalis YHS invigorates the blood, promotes the movement of qi bio-energy and alleviates pain.

Pharmacological and chemical research has shown that Corydalis is a very strong analgesic and is 40% as effective as morphine when similarly dosed. The herb is a very mild hypnotic and sedative so it has been used for sleep disturbances but with no after effects such as grogginess or lowered reflexes.

While Corydalis has no known central nervous system effects its known side effects are reductions of menstrual flow in women with menorrhagia, reduction in headaches and fatigue.

YHS is very widely used in the treatment of pain in China and, more important to this discussion, is being used as a replacement for opioids. Modern medical research shows that YHS is effective in suppressing nociceptive responses to thermally induced acute pain; chemically induced inflammatory pain as well as injury induced neuropathic pain. Because one of the major drawbacks of the narcotic analgesics is the development of tolerance, YHS was tested for the development of tolerance (addiction) to its antinociceptive effect. It was shown that unlike morphine YHS does not result in development of tolerance after long term daily administration.

So there we have a traditional herbal medicine that is both effective in combating pain, has no addictive properties, withstands the scrutiny of modern science and is inexpensive.

We use YHS as well as other herbal medicines and acupuncture therapies in our Vero Beach clinic for pain management and to help with withdrawal from narcotic addiction. Our results have always been very successful and as the opioid epidemic continues to grow we expect to see more and more cases of this sort.

In our next installment we will again look at the evolution and future of narcotic addiction in the west and how acupuncture therapy plays a part to combat this far reaching social and human problem.

Yours in good health,

Robert Kienitz, DTCM

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