ScienceOnTap: It hurts!

Science hurts. Well, last week’s lecture was all about pain. Not only was it uncomfortably hot, and the Gorge on fire, but this was our last scheduled night at the Clinton St Theater, unairconditioned yet cozy in the SE neighborhood.

Pain, as Dr.Micheal Morgan, professor of psychology at WSU, ┬ásaid, can be a good thing. It lets you know when something is wrong, so that you can fix it. Children born with a rare condition where they don’t feel pain are happy but short lived – they not only don’t learn to not touch the flame, they also don’t notice when they’ve been leaning on one butt cheek too long, and will damage hips – even your sense of balance comes from noticing tiny sensations.

Amongst examples of how one learns from good pain was a soccer player writhing in agony. That one is easily fixed, he said, it just takes the ref applying a red card to the opposing team, and they player is as right as rain.

See that afternoon’s USMNT vs Honduras for examples.

This makes me wonder about the ‘good pain’ of bad puns, but I can stare out the window til the thought goes away.

Alas, those with chronic pain don’t have that choice (as does any of us who hang out with punsters Paul & Amanda). More than 10 million Americans have pain that lasts for 3 months or longer, and it tends to be for unknown causes, or else the docs would fix it. 20 years ago, if you came to an MD with all over body pain, and they couldn’t find a cause, they’d send you to a shrink, and say it’s all in your head, you are imagining things.

All pain is really in your head and the interpretation of the signals given through the nervous system. The brain doesn’t have that sort of receptor. “You can poke at the brain as much as you want; you might kill them, but they wont feel it,” said our speaker.

Now, they can diagnose Fibromyalgia, and admit it is in your head, but it’s physiological, not imagined. Somewhere in the chain from brain, to spinal column, to nerve cells, to skin & joints, there’s an abnormality, and that is causing the brain to interpret as pain, and fires off the body reactions like inflammation and cellular defense, which saps body energy.

But pain medications were destigmatized in the ’90s, doctors re-educated to prescribe for quality of life, and due to a variety of predicable factors, the number of people dependent on those opioids also rose, and therefore the number of overdoses as well, bringing us to the ugly part of pain. While the opioids allow the patient to feel but not be in pain because the neuroreceptors are blocked, the patient may develop a tolerance, and require more of the drug for the same effect. Eventual removal the opioid means the withdrawal symptoms set in, and the patient has a burning *need* to get back on the drug. It’s a physiological change happening, not a willpower issue, and a perfect, one size fits most solution certainly doesn’t exist.

Discussing medical marijuana, it seems to be a palliative for some people, preventing the need for more addictive drugs, but it’s still classified by the Feds as class 1, and therefore we not only can’t prescribe it to vets, researchers need to jump through hoops to study it. Our researcher “had to by a $300 safe to store 50mg, and wade through a 7 mo process for studying marijuana and rats , but i could walk 10 blocks from my house, buy a ton & spread it all over my lawn.”

The portland crowd reacted exactly as you imagine.