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Acupuncture is a holistic health technique that stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine practices in which trained practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles into the skin.
Today acupuncture is one of the most popular practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the West. TCM is a complimentary health approach that first originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago and has been evolving ever since.
To treat a wide variety of diseases, pain and stress-related symptoms, practitioners of TCM use holistic techniques that include acupuncture, herbal medicines, tai chi, qi gong, massage therapy, and various “mind and body practices.”
The use of acupuncture and other TCM techniques has risen steadily in the U.S and other Western countries over the past several decades. According to a large survey done on complementary health approaches by the National Institute of Health in 2007, in the U.S. alone at least 3.1 million people had tried acupuncture in 2007. The survey showed that the number of visits to acupuncturists tripled between 1997 and 2007. (1)
The first question most people ask me is, “Does acupuncture hurt?”
Surprisingly, although needles are used in acupuncture, treatments are relatively pain-free. In fact, one of the most popular uses of acupuncture is to reduce chronic pain throughout the body in a natural way, without the need for medications that can cause unwanted side effects.
Most of the studies investigating acupuncture to date have examined whether acupuncture can safely reduce pain. However, it’s expected that in the next several years, researchers will continue to study whether or not it might help with other conditions, too – including anxiety, depression, inflammation, hot flashes, side effects of chemotherapy and insomnia.
What Is Acupuncture Able to Treat?
Currently, acupuncture is used to treat conditions like:
- muscle spasms and pain
- chronic back problems and pain
- headaches, including reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines
- neck pain
- knee pain
- digestive problems
- mood, depression
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services states that,
“… promising results have emerged showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting, and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment.” (2)
Is Acupuncture Safe?
The National Institute of Health does consider acupuncture to be “generally considered safe when performed by an experienced, well-trained practitioner using sterile needles.” (3) However, it’s important to always go to a practitioner that is well-trained in acupuncture as well as to a facility that is very careful about using clean needles — improperly performed acupuncture and/or contaminated needles can pose a big risk.
The good news is that the FDA regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices and requires that the needles be “sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.” To date, there have been very few complications reported from the use of acupuncture needles, so the risk is thought to be very low. This doesn’t mean that risk doesn’t exist, however, because some serious side effects have occurred when non-sterile needles have been used.
As far as how much acupuncture is needed before seeing results, firm clinical guidelines have yet to be established. Acupuncture is usually recommended as a complimentary treatment method — as something to try in addition to other pain management techniques, such as physical therapy, exercise and reducing inflammation through a healthy diet.
1. Helps Reduce Headaches and Migraines
In 2009, after researchers from the Center for Complementary Medicine at the University of Munich reviewed over 11 studies involving 2,137 acupuncture patients, they concluded that acupuncture “could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent chronic tension-type headaches.”
The review looked at multiple clinical trials comparing the effects of acupuncture sessions to “sham” (placebo-type of acupuncture) sessions and to receiving no treatment at all for the relief of migraine headache pain. In particular, both the group that had needles randomly placed and the group that had strategically placed needles experienced a reduction in headache symptoms. The control group did not experience any change.
However, in the followup survey, the group that had the real acupuncture treatment continued to have both a decrease in the number of headache days and headache pain intensity. (4)
2. Improves Chronic Pain, Including for the Back, Neck, Knee or Arthritis Pain
Acupuncture was proven to be more effective for improving chronic back pain than no acupuncture treatment in a 2006 study done by the University Medical Center of Berlin. In patients with chronic low back pain, there was a significant difference in pain reported between groups of patients receiving acupuncture over eight weeks versus those not receiving any treatment. (5)
Even more impressive is a 2012 study done by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics aimed to determine the effect of acupuncture for four chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, arthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain.
The researchers reviewed clinical trials involving over 17,000 patients, and the results showed that patients receiving acupuncture had less pain than patients in the placebo control group for back and neck muscle aches and pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headaches. (6) The conclusion was that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is “more than just a placebo effect, therefore it’s a reasonable referral option for doctors.”
3. Helps Treat Insomnia
Cannabis might work as a treatment for opiate addiction. A state anti-opiate hotline won’t recommend it
Using cannabis instead of opiates could save lives, studies say, but Arizona’s new opioid hotline for health care providers — and, soon, for the public — won’t recommend it as an alternative.
The free Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line is set to go live in a few days. It will be “one of the nation’s first real-time, comprehensive hotlines for healthcare providers seeking consultation for complex patients with pain and opioid use disorder,” according to a state news release.
But one treatment option the health care providers and patients won’t hear about on the hotline is medical marijuana.
“It’s not part of the protocol,” said Dr. Dan Brooks, medical director for the Banner Poison and Drug Information Centers. “We don’t have any initial plans to talk about marijuana” as a treatment option.
The hotline is viewed as one possible piece to solving a crisis that has caused bodies to pile up at morgues around the country. More people than ever are dying from the abuse of heroin, pills like OxyContin, or synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Arizona alone had 942 suspected opioid deaths from June 15 to February 22, according to the state’s Opioid Epidemic web page.
“Preventing opioid overdoses and deaths in our state needs a multifaceted approach, and the new hotline is a major step forward as it will give medical providers immediate access to experts who can help to ensure safe prescribing and to identify treatment options for patients, which may or may not include opioids,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, says in the release.
“No two patients are the same and treatments vary based on individual needs, so we need to make sure we are providing tailored resources to our medical community.”
The state DHS and Poison and Drug Information Centers plan to create new advice for health care providers. Recommendations will include “specific opioid-related information for providers, such as safe prescribing limits for opioid-naive patients, identification of potentially dangerous drug combinations, and chronic pain treatment options,” the release says.
For some patients, the hotline experts may advise the use of drugs like methadone or Vivitrol but not marijuana
Not that the nurses, doctors, and pharmacists who answer the 24-hour hotline won’t talk about cannabis at all.
“If they have questions about marijuana, we’ll answer questions,” Brooks said.”I don’t know anyone who’s advising marijuana as an alternative.”
Yet cannabis, some experts point out, has been effective in treating pain, and could be considered an advisable substitute for opiates.
Studies show that states with medical-marijuana and adult-use legalization laws have seen sharp drop-offs in their opiate overdose deaths. (None of the studies have so far included a look at Arizona’s statistics, it seems.)
Will Humble, former state DHS director and executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, stopped short of saying the hotline should recommend cannabis as a specific treatment option for specific patients. But clearly, he said, the staff should talk about its potential benefits as an opiate alternative.
A prominent Democratic U.S. senator is slamming pharmaceutical companies for opposing marijuana legalization. “To them it’s competition for chronic pain, and that’s outrageous because we don’t have the crisis in people who take marijuana for chronic pain having overdose issues,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said. “It’s not the same thing. It’s not as…
Howard Fischer / Capitol Media Services SB-1420 PHOENIX — Sometime next year, medical marijuana users could get a guarantee of sorts that the drugs they are buying are as good as they’ve been promised. And they’ll know if it has mold, disease-causing bacteria or other adulterants. With only three lawmakers in dissent, the Senate voted…
A bill at the Arizona Legislature would mandate state-regulated testing for medical cannabis, lower patient registration fees, and make other improvements to the 2010 law.
Arizona rips off medical-marijuana patients by collecting fees that are much higher than what it costs for the state Department of Health Services to run the program.
Last year, for instance, DHS could have funded its $11.7 million in expenditures by collecting $5.7 million from patients. Instead, the state agency collected $18.9 million from them. The extra money went into a useless overflow account that now sits at more than $33 million.
“I wish I would have thought about writing the rule to include a variable fee.” — Former Arizona DHS Director Will Humble
A bill co-sponsored by nearly the entire Legislature, Senate Bill 1420, would change the equation. It would bring down the cost of a medical marijuana card from $150 a year to something more reasonable — something lower-income or fixed-income people could afford.
For many people, the best part is that it would also mandate state-regulated testing for mold and other contaminants in medical marijuana.
But would the bill trade the state program’s high annual surpluses for annual deficits that could end up costing taxpayers?
The Trump administration doesn’t want to see hemp expanded nationwide in the next Farm Bill because of concerns about overproduction, an official said Wednesday. Greg Ibach, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said current hemp regulations are “fairly narrow” and that the Trump administration doesn’t necessarily want to see that change when the…