Know pain, know gain
Dr. Hance Clarke

​Dr. Hance Clarke, holding a pipette of CBD, is looking at how medical cannabis products manage pain.

How Sprott Surgery’s team is advancing the study of pain management and making the surgical experience safer

As innovative as surgery has become, recovery from operations can still be painful. In the not too distant past, patients might have taken opium to quell their discomfort or drink a bottle of vodka before going under the knife. These days, anesthesia and postoperative pain management, have become more advanced, with doctors administering or prescribing everything from Tylenol to morphine to medical cannabis to help make patients more comfortable.

“The neurobiology of pain is consistent,” says Dr. Hance Clarke, an anesthesiologist and Director of Pain Services in the Department of Anesthesia and Pain Management and Director of the GoodHope Ehlers Danlos Clinic at Toronto General Hospital. “What has changed is the way we view it and the way we treat it.”

One lesson researchers have learned over the years is that an individualized approach to pain management and anesthesiology can drastically enhance a patient’s recovery. That’s why, after decades of research, doctors continue to search for more innovative ways to manage postoperative pain.

Finding opioid alternatives

Dr. Clarke has long been investigating how patients can better manage pain post-surgery. For years, opioids were the main therapy clinicians prescribed for treating post-surgical pain. While they are effective for controlling pain, they come with major risks for misuse and addiction. “One of the strongest predictors of whether patients will become addicted is the dose of opioids they are prescribed when they leave the hospital,” says Dr. Clarke, who says nearly 30,000 Ontarians exit hospitals with prescriptions of more than 100 milligrams daily. “With that kind of dose, it’s not going to be an easy road back to becoming opioid-free.”