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Chronic Pain Patients Turn To Bee Sting Therapy To Relieve Pain

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Most people do everything they can to avoid painful bee stings, and some people are even deathly allergic to them.

But, bee-lieve it or not, others are actually intentionally getting stung in order to relieve pain, CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported.

Rich Heryford is a bee keeper who employs his bees to make honey, pollinate almond crops, and for bee sting therapy.

Pat Henry, 71, has multiple sclerosis, and for the past 16 years she's used bee sting therapy for pain. Every other day she gets two bee stings to the back of her neck and four bee stings above her knees and below them.

"From here it goes to my hands. In a couple of hours, the joint soreness goes away," Henry said.

Her caretaker Chet stings himself too.

"My hands were so bad with arthritis, and I don't have that anymore," he said.

Bee venom for pain is an ancient folk remedy that's now going mainstream, Gomez reported.

One clinic in Los Angeles is testing honey bee venom as a treatment for arthritis pain, but without the bees. Instead, doctors use a syringe filled with apimed -- a standardized, purified, venom in a vial.

"We inject it locally in the knees of patients that are afflicted with osteoarthritis," said Dr. Hazan

The patients are monitored for months to see if the pain gets any better.

It's considered safe if the venom dose starts out very low and slowly increases, sort of like allergy shots building up tolerance, Gomez reported.

Doctors, however, do caution that actual bee stings can be risky.

"There's no way to predict whether the next bee sting could be the next thing that could trigger even a fatal allergic reaction or a life-threatening allergic reaction," said Dr. Tania Elliott, ENT & Allergy Associates. "There's no way to predict. And about half of life-threatening reactions occur in patients who've never experienced any form of allergic reaction to a bee sting in the past."

While the bees have not prevented Henry's M.S. from weakening her legs, she does believe the stings have helped maintain her independence.

"I clean my own house. Wake up every morning and say OK, I made it one more day," she said.

As to how the bee stings work? No one is quite sure.

Some theorize it's sort of winged acupuncture. Others think the venom may somehow interfere with inflammation caused by arthritis or M.S., or even block some of the pain pathways in the body.

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