discomfort (2006-19)

Herbal Shmerbal

Easy to say when you’re not the one suffering

by Steve Dupree

I've been a little hard on my body. Nothing out of the ordinary, really, just the normal idiocy that comes from what a friend referred to as “testosterone poisoning.” I have been involved (read: injured) as operator, passenger or bystander in bicycle wrecks, motorcycle wrecks and car wrecks. I have been injured in sporting endeavors ranging from basketball and football to running and martial arts. I have been hurt in fights and hurt on the job.

As a matter of fact, the last major job-related injury I incurred, the result of falling off a roof (that was pretty much when I quit being a roofer), is the last major injury I had—knocks on wood. After the obligatory trip to the emergency room, when one does a sufficiently impressive job of injuring oneself, one must follow up with the appropriate specialist. So I was talking with the orthopedic specialist that lucked into me (well, mostly I was listening), and in the course of the examination he says “...when you get arthritis…” I must have said something to the effect of “Whoa! You mean if I get arthritis, don’t you?” The doc says, “No, I mean when .”

A few years down the road I saw what he meant. Actually, I felt what he meant. I experienced what we insiders know as “Delayed Onset Reaction to Stupid Choices.” I’ll just call it “pain” for short, although there was also some diminishment of range of motion and other symptoms.

Since I had been warned, I was pretty sure that I was seeing the effects of arthritis. It hurt, but I’m not much of one for taking pills, and needles scare the shit out of me, so I just dealt with it. At the ripe old age of about 45, I pretty much decided that pain was just one of the things I had to accept about getting older.

Then one day a friend suggested that I try ground flaxseed to improve my joint health. I read up a little on the alleged benefits of this stuff and went ahead and tried it. In less than two weeks, the difference was really obvious. Still, I’m a little stubborn, so initially I would sometimes quit taking it. Pain would reappear. I would start on the flaxseed again, and pain would recede. It only took me a few times to figure out that the flaxseed had something to do with the absence of pain.

Oddly enough, flaxseed isn’t an FDA-sanctioned treatment for arthritis. I have found no studies that verify the effectiveness of flaxseed in restoring flexibility and relieving pain in joints afflicted with arthritis. Perhaps such studies exist, and I simply haven’t seen them.

Why is this of interest to you? I’m so glad you asked.

The FDA recently ruled that “no sound scientific studies supported the medical use of marijuana.” Of all the things this (mis)administration has said that are absolutely meaningless to regular folk, this ranks near the top. They did not say that there aren’t tens of thousands of cancer and AIDS patients who haven’t claimed to benefit from the use of marijuana. They did not claim that the reduced nausea reported by chemotherapy patients is bogus.  They never even pretended to shape their mouths to say that pain had not been diminished or appetite restored. 

Given the FDA’s rather mealy-mouthed parsing of its support of the Bush administration’s position on the issue, why would anyone in pain or other medical need base his or her decision on what it says?

Personally, I hope no one does.

You see, unlike the alleged Christians in the White House, I have no desire to see needless suffering. Unlike those who would believe the government is the best entity to dictate what is best for their health, I typically want to do some research and take possession of my own health, maintenance and correction. Even though it isn’t widely reported on Fox News, herbal remedies have been used effectively since well before history started being recorded (well, if one can believe the archaeological record). 

Perhaps the problem is the word “medical.” After all, I never used the word “medical” in my completely true anecdote about flaxseed.  Whatever the problem, there surely must be a very good reason that this administration insists on demonizing the use of marijuana by people it cannot possibly hurt and, most probably, will help.

I can easily see a role for the FDA in establishing grades of herbals according to strength of the active ingredient(s). I can see the FDA doing testing and certification of herbals. I can see the FDA ensuring that approved herbals do not have additional substances added. What I can’t see is me ignoring things which have a long history of use as treatments for health conditions simply because a politically motivated bureaucracy has arbitrarily decided to ignore history, science and evidence. 

Do these folks feed on suffering, are they afraid of someone knowing more than they do, or do they simply have stock in pharmaceutical firms? I don’t know, but I do know that if I am already suffering, the minor illegality of an herbal is not going to stop me from using it.