It doesn't work for everybody, but marijuana or CBD (cannabidiol) oil can help reduce chronic pain.
Studies are beginning to show THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — is an anti-inflammatory, said John Lucio, the director of pain management at St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City.
Lucio was among a group of speakers who participated in the 2019 Successful Aging Forum.
He told around 200 listeners that patients ask him about the benefits of marijuana about five times a week.
"It doesn't work the same way as ibuprofen does — or steroids — but it does have an anti-inflammatory effect," he said. "It does have pain-relieving effects as well."
Patients are beginning to ask how safe marijuana is, he said. So, he looked at the data to find out where problems were and why people are scared of it. Lucio said he could not find a documented case of overdose by marijuana.
Estimates say a person would probably have to smoke 800 marijuana cigarettes before they died from it, but they would die from carbon monoxide poisoning before that, he added.
He acknowledged data show that in Colorado, there have been fatal accidents in which marijuana was involved — similar to what has happened with alcohol or narcotics.
"So, it's not all rosy; it's not a medication that's going to cure everybody," Lucio said. "It's a tool in a box. There is not one thing that is going to solve everybody's problems."
Speaking outside the forum, he added he has several patients who have sought marijuana treatment. Some have gone to Colorado — where it is legal for recreational use, meaning anyone who is 21 may buy and use it — to pick up marijuana to try as a treatment.
It has worked for some, but not all, he said.
Also, St. Mary's Health Care, the St. Louis-based owner of St. Mary's Hospital, has asked its physicians not to fill out certifications that would allow patients to apply for medical marijuana cards. So, if his patients wish to seek the card, Lucio said he sends them to another physician in Jefferson City who may certify them.
The important thing is he finds ways to relieve patients' pain.
When Lucio receives patients, the damage to their bodies has already been done, he said during his comment period. They suffer from, neck pain, migraines cancer pain and other symptoms.
"I'd start this discussion with them, and then I'd ask them to tell me about their lifestyle. Tell me about your diet," he said. "It caught a lot of my patients by surprise because a lot were really not concerned about it, and they asked why I'd ask that question."
One patient actually filled out an online evaluation and criticized him for "being a dietitian."
"I took that as a compliment," Lucio said.
He practices integrative medicine, which combines conventional medicine and "complimentary alternative medicines."
Alternative medicines may include things like acupuncture, Ayurveda (a balance between mind, body and spirit), homeopathy (using natural substances) and naturopathy (using diet, exercise and massage to control diseases).
"I cannot talk to somebody about alternative medicine until I've gotten their pain under control," he said. "So I use conventional medicine to get their pain under control, and in subsequent visits, we'll start talking about other things."
Narcotics have a place in health care, but they are not for everybody, Lucio said. His clinic only uses narcotics for specific reasons and on a very limited basis.
Big academic centers are beginning to teach alternative medicines, he said. Patients now will often hear doctors suggest yoga, biofeedback and acupuncture for pain.
"There are more and more studies showing that chronic inflammation is really the root cause of almost every disease we have," he said. "Chronic inflammation is a normal physiological response — especially if you injure yourself. If it continues in the body unnecessarily, it does create some bad problems."
It can alter DNA and begin to cause patients to develop cancers, heart disease and other illnesses.
A chief way to overcome inflammations is through diet, he said.
People will see a lot of diets.
He calls his diet an anti-inflammatory diet, and he suggested listeners search for information about anti-inflammatory diets on the internet.
In addition to speakers, the forum, which St. Mary's Hospital and JMS Senior Living (Jefferson City Manor) presented at Capitol Plaza Hotel, 415 W. McCarty St., provided an exhibitor area, where more than 30 vendors offered health screenings and information to attendees.
Each year, those who attend the event help determine what resources will be available the following year.
Surveys conducted of participants in the 2018 forum showed people wanted to hear more about pain management, according to Bev Stafford, St. Mary's Foundation director. So, a great deal of Thursday's event was focused on pain control.
Nathan Kenyon, a physician, and Joanna Smith, a physician assistant, followed Lucio and discussed non-surgical options for pain management. They delved into Radio Frequency Treatment (or nerve ablation), which uses a radio wave to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thus decreasing pain signals.
Other speakers discussed treatment options for arthritis in hands, thumbs and wrists; treatment of degenerative disc disease; or age and isolation.
Mike Baumgartner, president of St. Mary's Hospital, kicked off the fourth annual forum by encouraging participant to become more active and watch their eating habits.
"It is important that we take an active role in our health," Baumgartner said. "You showing up this morning is a great example of that. You taking personal responsibility for your health is one way to do it."
The second way is for listeners to have relationships with their providers.
Someone asked him a long time ago if he knew what kind of business he was in. He always knew he was in the health care business, he said.
But, that was the wrong answer.
"We're in the relationship business," Baumgartner said. "It's our relationships that we have with our patients. It's our relationships that physicians and providers have with each and every one of you that's important."