Pain Medication: The Pros & Cons

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

The usage of pain medication can be a helpful tool in coping with an injury or illness, but the fact is, some people really need pain meds and some really don’t. Add to the equation the various side effects and potential for addiction, and this delineation becomes even more critical. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen introduce the concept of “Skills or Pills?” to illustrate when it may be necessary to use pain medication, and when you can utilize other, more natural techniques to help get you through the painful times.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain spect imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, welcome back. We're so excited for this week.
Tana Amen: We're excited for every week.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Skills or pills? Question Mark.
Tana Amen: Such an interesting topic.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So often people come to us here at Amen Clinics, and they go, "I don't want to take medication." And they may be floridly psychotic, and we're all like, "No, you need meditation."
Tana Amen: Well, we also have people though that come in, and they're like, "Yeah, I don't want to do all that. That's too hard. Can't I just take a pill." So it's, there's both sides of that we need to discuss.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Some people don't trust natural supplements-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... or psychotherapy. And they want a quick fix, which generally is not quick.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And other people, they're so afraid of medication, because of the horror stories they've heard-
Tana Amen: Or the stigma.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... or the stigma attached to it. Nobody wants a psychiatric illness. And so you actually didn't even want to date a psychiatrist.
Tana Amen: No, because they're all crazy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So we have this sigma among our own relationships. And I learned this a long time ago in dealing with children who have ADD, is that parents would actually believe that they were a bad parent if they allowed me to write prescriptions for medication for a child's mind.
Tana Amen: You know, it's an interesting thing and we should talk about the psychological part of this, because even I had thyroid cancer, and then it caused all sorts of other problems with my health. So there are a few medications I will take for the rest of my life. And that's not a psychiatric thing, but I remember feeling like probably three or four times, I'm going to find a better way because I'm smart. I'm going to find a better way. I don't want to be quote unquote defective.
Because I'm super woman, and I'm going to fix this, I'm going to figure it out. And I remember trying to go off my medication like three or four-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Off your thyroid-
Tana Amen: How dumb is that?
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... medication? Well it's actually-
Tana Amen: Yeah, the other medications.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... very common among teenagers and young adults who have diabetes. So diabetes is actually a great analogy. So this is a lethal disorder-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that if you don't take your insulin, if you're a Type I diabetic-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you could die.
Tana Amen: Right. There's no way out of Type I diabetes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And kids, they feel like they're going to live forever. And so they don't take their medication, they fool people. And then they end up in a diabetic coma.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So-
Tana Amen: I'm like, I'm going to find a natural way.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... this is not just related to mental health issues.
Tana Amen: But my point is we have to figure out what the psychological piece of that is. Why do people feel defective if they need help with something? Right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well and mind meds are very different than heart meds, or liver meds, or kidney meds, or antibiotics.
Tana Amen: So we are not anti-medication, we're against the indiscriminate use of medication. We don't want you taking medication you don't need. We'd rather you do everything that you can first to avoid it. Correct? Like nontoxic, least toxic, most effective as you always say. But when it comes down to it, if there's something that's going to save your life, or literally just transform the quality of your life, we don't want you to feel bad about that. I don't feel bad about it anymore. I'm like, my life feels great. I feel great, my energy's good, I'm healthy, I'm over it. Right? So I'm just like, this is the way life is.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So skills or pills?
Tana Amen: Or both?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Or both? And you know, my thought is it depends.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And over this week we're going to talk about pain. We're going to talk about anxiety, depression, ADD, and just look at skills or pills. And we recently had someone we love go on pain medication after surgery and it was not good.
Tana Amen: Well and it scared all of us.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It changed her personality.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And what a lot of people don't know is that opiates, in particular, they are a short term fix, and some people will kill themselves without it being in such dire pain. But opioids actually increased the number of pain fibers. So they make you more sensitive to pain-
Tana Amen: When you stop taking, yep.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and it pisses off white blood cells, which means the white blood cells become angrier, and more aggressive-
Tana Amen: More active.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and they attack the areas that have been hurt. So the opiates are really creating-
Tana Amen: More pain.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... they're more pain, and their insidious in that once you start them, it's super hard to stop them.
Tana Amen: And oh by the way, you also become desensitized so that if you need them again in the future, they don't work as well.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And as they make your white blood cells angry, they often can change a person's personality, and make them angrier and more irritable.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So what do you do? And what we found in our friend is that Lamictal, which is, not Lamictal-
Tana Amen: No. Lyrica.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Lyrica.
Tana Amen: Actually worked better.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Worked better. And it's not creating more pain fibers. What it's doing is it's settling down the pain centers in the brain. And so both of those are medications.
Tana Amen: That doesn't attach to the opioid receptors.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But one is addictive, one is really hard to stop, one is not. I think of opiates for short term pain relief like after surgery, but get rid of them as quickly as you can. Otherwise, they're going to cause addiction and dependence. But there are also natural ways, so I was walking this morning, and I do that most mornings. And you remember a couple of years ago I thought I was going to have to have a knee surgery.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because it was just so hard to walk because of the pain in my knees from playing football in high school and college. But when I changed my diet, when I get rid of gluten and dairy, sugar, corn and soy, and I take curcumins, Omega 3 fatty acids, and SAM-e, I don't have pain.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I was like, just so happy this morning-
Tana Amen: Because the inflammation comes down.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because I was thinking about it.
Tana Amen: So, speaking of mental health related to medication. That's also true. You can do things to make it better or make it worse, with your lifestyle, that might make the difference of whether you take medication, or whether you take as much medication.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're in chronic pain or even short term pain, it causes anxiety, it causes depression. And I became interested in pain many years ago, as I got very interested in hypnosis, because one of its best uses is decreasing pain. And when I was at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they actually used it after surgery. So they'd compare the amount of pain medications a person would use if they had been hypnotized before surgery or not.
Tana Amen: So I have to talk about this for a second, because I do my meditation with, and I do sort of a self hypnosis, that I've been doing for a while, and I absolutely 100% notice that when I do it consistently, I feel it's almost like a sense of being medicated. It's like this joy, this happiness, and everything in my body feels better, right? My mood, pain, everything feels better. My back feels better. When I don't do it, I'm far more sensitive to, not only pain, but just being annoyed with people. It's almost like a medication.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So emotional pain.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So when you don't do it, you actually cause emotional pain in other people-
Tana Amen: No doubt.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... like me.
Tana Amen: Because I get irritated more easily.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You know, there's actually some fascinating new research on pain medications like Tylenol and Ibuprofen, that even though it decreases pain in you, it also decreases your empathy-
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... for other people.
Tana Amen: That's really interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so as you don't feel pain, you also don't feel other people's-
Tana Amen: Sort of like alcohol.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You're not feeling other people's pain. So when it comes to pain, yes sometimes it's so bad you have to be on pain medications. But I think the goal needs to be, how can I take the least amount possible? And one of my favorite stories of all times is Norman Cousins, who was the editor of the Saturday Evening Review or the Saturday Evening Post a long time ago. And he was diagnosed with something called ankylosing spondylitis, which is an autoimmune disorder, where his body was attacking his spine.
And he was in a great amount of pain, on a lot of pain medication that damaged the quality of his life. And he just hated it. And he went to doctor after doctor and it didn't work. And he got this idea that when he laughed, he felt better. And so he locked himself in a hotel room in Los Angeles, for 500 hours with comedy tapes like Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy.
Tana Amen: That's funny.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And he laughed for 500-
Tana Amen: That's like Patch Adam's too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... hours. And at the end of a couple of weeks, he didn't have pain anymore.
Tana Amen: That's so, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And he wrote a book about this called the Anatomy of an Illness, which I read when I was a college student. And it had this big impact on me that maybe there's another way to deal with pain besides-
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... just taking medication.
Tana Amen: And our friend, Rabbi G. So Rabbi G. started a nonprofit organization. It just, it's mind blowing to me and I love it so much. So he is a fellow black belt in karate, which I just love. And he lost his daughter to leukemia when she was two and he saw this incredible pain that she went through, and he was so devastated, and so heartbroken seeing his little two year old daughter going through this, that he started this organization called Kids Kicking Cancer.
They go all over the world. And so, back then, they didn't have even what they have now for kids, right? Going through this process of cancer. And so with all of the chemo and the radiation and the painful procedures they were doing, they would just tie them down and let them scream. So he's started going all over the world, and what they would do is go in, and they would teach these kids the breathing techniques basically that we use in martial arts.
So these breathing techniques and visualization, and they would teach them to [Kia 00:12:35], and they would teach them basically that they were going to visualize this whole process and being an empowered state, and not feeling pain. And they would visualize the whole thing being finished, right, with them being in this powerful state. It's incredible, the stories that came out of this. These kids would often look up and go, "Well wait, when are they going to start?" And it was done. It's incredible.
And that's one of the reasons I love karate so much, because it's an empowering sport. And so when I was told not to do it, I noticed that I felt weaker. I felt more pain in general throughout my day. When I do karate, I just have to do it in a safer way now, I don't feel as much pain, because it's empowering, because my mind goes to a more empowering place.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and the part of that that is so healing is the visualization.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Which is a-
Tana Amen: But the breathing too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... part of hypnosis that is so powerful. So it often starts with breathing, and then visualization.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I love that part. And I remember when I was an intern at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I hypnotized everybody. I was having so much fun with it, but I would use it a lot for procedures. And if I had to do a lumbar puncture on someone, or I had to draw their blood, especially children, that the first thing I would do, and it would only take a few minutes, is put them in a trance.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And get their minds somewhere else. But it's not magic.
Tana Amen: It's not.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's a skill you develop over time, that can be incredibly helpful.
Tana Amen: I even did that with a painful medical procedure that I was having. They wanted to give me anesthesia, and I don't like having anesthesia when I don't have to, because I've had so much of it for health reasons. It's like, this to me, was not a big procedure, but they want to put you under anesthesia mostly for their convenience, because they don't want you wincing and moving and you know, crying out in pain. So I'm like, "I'm not doing anesthesia. You're going to have to do it without it." And I put on my headphones. They were arguing with me through this whole thing where I'm like, "It's not going to happen."
So I put my headphones on and I did my visualization and my self hypnosis through the whole procedure. They were mind blown, actually. It was really cool. And I didn't feel anything. I didn't feel any pain at all.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So in summary, skills or pills, question mark? When it comes to opiate pain medications and addictive pain medications, short term and as little as possible. At the SAM-e time, you want to increase your skill, especially guided imagery, hypnosis-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... diaphragmatic breathing, meditation. And certain supplements can help-
Tana Amen: For sure.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... with the pain that comes from inflammation like Omega 3 fatty acids. Brain MD, we have the best Omega 3, I take it every day. Omega 3 Power, also Brain curcumins. Curcumins have an anti inflammatory effect. They also help with pain. They also help with your mood. And one of my favorite supplements over the years, I take every day is SAM-e, S-Adenosyl methionine, which has good studies for both depression and pain.
Tana Amen: So we would love to hear what you've done, what you guys have done to manage your pain, especially if it has been natural or through supplements or through meditation. Share this information with someone you know that is suffering. So leave your comments, share, and we would love it if you leave a review for us. We love those five star reviews and we love to read our testimonials. So thank you so much.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And also, you know what's the one thing you took away from this podcast? Post that on any of your social media channels, and tag Brain Warrior's Way.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode, and while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're interested in coming to Amen Clinics, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.