A Doctor’s Plant-Based Toolbox: Treating Chronic Pain with Cannabis and Kratom

Kratom Chronic Pain - GCI Content Hub - Global Cannabis Intelligence

Dr Michele Ross reveals how plant-based medicines like cannabis and kratom can be used to effectively treat chronic pain, fibromyalgia and more.

Clinician, patient and founder of AURA Therapeutics, Dr Michele Ross has professional and first-hand experience in the therapeutic properties of plant medicines. In interview with the Professionally Cannabis & Psychedelics podcast, Dr Ross discusses the efficacy of utilising cannabis and kratom to manage chronic pain, her advocacy of the plant-based toolbox approach and the shortfalls of the current pharmaceutical landscape.

Cannabis and kratom: harmful or healing?

Like many medical research professionals, Dr Ross entered the field of neuroscience with a view of illegal substances like cannabis as harmful and addictive. As a patient with fibromyalgia – a condition which causes widespread pain and extreme tiredness – Dr Ross was prescribed a cocktail of traditional opioid drugs, which had debilitating side effects and didn’t effectively manage her pain. Through her own research and experience, Michele soon came to realise that plant-based substances, including cannabis and kratom, have huge therapeutic benefits and applications that have long been ignored by the healthcare industry. Her professional love of plant medicines became very personal as she began using cannabis products to manage her pain.

Dr Ross explains that cannabis is a great fit for her condition, with “90% of fibromyalgia patients responding really well to smoking marijuana.” Because of the ways in which it interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, cannabis can inhibit muscle spasms and lower back pain.

Experimenting with cannabis marked the beginning of a journey which led Dr Ross to the products, dosing and administration methods that proved most effective in treating her symptoms. She jokes that, despite being a cannabis educator and advocate, she is “a bad weed smoker”. Her preferred methods of administration include topical oils and edibles: “there’s different products that work for different people and that’s OK.”

What is kratom?

Kratom is also an essential ingredient in Dr Ross’ medicinal plant-based toolbox. Kratom is a naturally existing South-east Asian plant and a member of the coffee family. While it works primarily on the opioid system, kratom is traditionally used in tea as a herb to elevate the user’s energy. Because it doesn’t activate the downstream pathways that cause respiratory depression, it is a “much safer” form of pain relief than traditional opioids, like morphine or fentanyl.

Kratom is still a taboo substance and has been banned in a number of states due to its association with opioids, yet Dr Ross’ dedication to dispelling the misconceptions about kratom is evident in her passionate delivery about its benefits. “I could talk about kratom all day,” she beams, “it’s really exciting.”

Like cannabis, kratom contains hundreds of compounds with medicinal properties and despite its bad reputation, there are over 10 million kratom users in the US alone. Dr Ross advocates for the decriminalisation of kratom, using the Kratom Consumer Protection Act 2016 in her home state of Nevada as an example of how regulation can improve access and create safer consumer standards which protect patients, sellers and consumers. “If you use cannabis and kratom and mushrooms and all these things, you’re not a drug addict. You’re a patient that’s using plant medicine responsibly,” Dr Ross explains.

Kratom can be a great ingredient in chronic pain treatment plans because it provides effective pain relief without causing drowsiness or fatigue, unlike other opioids or cannabis products. While Dr Ross uses CBD in the afternoon and THC at night, she consumes kratom tea in the morning instead of coffee for energising pain relief that provides focus and combats low energy, which is also a symptom of fibromyalgia.

Using kratom and cannabis to manage her pain is so effective that Dr Ross no longer uses opioid prescriptions. The decriminalisation of kratom would also facilitate scientific research which could lead to the development of a wider variety of products, such as pain relief topicals which contain functional plant ingredients.

In the end, the key ingredient in the medicinal plant-based toolbox is balance. By creating a holistic supplement regime of medicinal plants like cannabis and kratom, patients can target the body’s endocannabinoid and opioid systems in a way that not only effectively manages their symptoms but also reduces risk of overdose, which is important in chronic pain patients. These substances have huge therapeutic potential which could fill the gaps in the current pharmaceutical landscape.

Dr Ross’ unique perspective as a researcher and chronic pain patient leads her to advocate for a responsible and individualised treatment approach which combines both plant-based and pharmaceutical medicines. “For me using kratom and cannabis has been a really nice balance,” she concludes, “they will just let me be more productive and work more hours than I have ever before. And I’ve been really grateful for that.”

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