aspirin-cannabis
Aspirin has been in existence since the mid-1800s, with this image created in 1894. Photo: United Methodist Church (US)

Aspirin has been in existence since the mid-1800s, with this image created in 1894. Photo: United Methodist Church (US)

Aspirin, properly known as acetylsalicylic acid, has existed since the mid-1800s but comes from willow extract, a traditional remedy for pain relief dating back to ancient Egypt. It’s available under a multitude of brand names and is the first port of call for minor pain. It’s regarded as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and can be found in every first aid kit and almost everybody’s medicine cabinet. “Aspirin” was originally Bayer’s brand name, but rights to the trademark were lost in many countries, and it’s so ordinary, it doesn’t get capitalised here.

What aspirin does

Aspirin works because acetylsalicylic acid renders the cyclooxygenase enzyme inactive, in turn suppressing production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes and leading to pain relief. The instructions on the packet will warn users to seek medical attention if pain persists after dosage recommendations have been reached. Some symptoms warrant immediate attention, including weakness, sudden vision problems or slurred speech. It should not be taken to treat headaches following head injury or accompanied by drastic vomiting, fever or a stiff neck or for pain after bending.

Aieee! Side effects!

One of the side effects of aspirin is that it raises the danger of haemorrhagic stroke – one resulting from a burst blood vessel. Another is that using the drug frequently heightens the prospect of gastrointestinal bleeding; coated aspirin might lessen the risk; however, it also acts slower. It produces an allergic reaction in some folk: hives, flushing or a runny nose. It can react to some other drugs, such as anti-depressants, corticosteroids, the anti-coagulant Heparin, the pain-killer Ibuprofen and the blood thinner Plavix.

What cannabis does

Oxford scholar Dr. Leslie Iverson wrote, “Cannabis is a safer drug than aspirin and can be used long-term without serious side effects.” So that answers the question in the headline. Cannabis users can suffer from dizziness, a dry mouth, a headache, impaired thinking, loss of balance, nausea (although it can relieve this), a raspy cough, sleepiness, or reddened eyes. Cannabis makes heart attacks more likely. It is an inebriant, so it’s most unwise to drive or operate heavy machinery while under its influence. It can react with some beta blockers, prescription sedatives or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, which is known in the United Kingdom as Fluoxytine. It reacts with opioid pain medications – making them more effective. When it comes to pain, some strains of cannabis are better than others. Cannabis can improve mood or quality of life.

Pain relief will grow in importance

Pain relief will grow in importance as the population ages. The number of cannabis users over the age of 65 is burgeoning. One study in Europe (Frondini et al 2007) found one in four elderly people to be afflicted by chronic musculoskeletal pain so severe it’s disabling, and a study in Strilya (Gibson 2007) found half of older people to experience persistent pain.

Flippant endnote

Queen Victoria took cannabis for period pain. Aspirin is at least good for getting sweat stains out of the armpits of shirts.

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