Phantom pain is the most common form of chronic pain, but it is still debilitating. More and more people with phantom pain are turning to cannabis instead of opioids. If this is your case, perhaps cannabis would be an option?
We’ve all heard about the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of chronic pain. But can it also help to treat phantom pain?
Phantom pain is a rather mysterious disorder that affects those who have lost a limb. Those who have lost a leg or an arm say that they feel persistent, incapacitating pain in the limb they have lost! This missing limb is called a “phantom limb” and the pain is logically called “phantom pain”.
We will quickly review what can cause phantom pain, and discuss how cannabis can help treat this disabling problem.
What causes phantom pain ?
At the time, doctors thought phantom pain was caused by nerve damage in the stump of the amputated limb. They often tried to shorten the stump further in the hope of removing the damaged tissue, but often found that this only made the pervasive pain worse.
Today’s science now paints a different picture. Researchers believe that phantom pain occurs as a result of a new connection in the somatosensory cortex. There is a part of the neocortex that is associated with sensation and is located at the top of the head, roughly in the “headband area. This somatosensory cortex is divided into regions that correspond to each part of your body. For example, when you injure your toe, the area associated with the “toe” lights up in a way.
When you lose a limb, the somatosensory cortex reconnects by itself. The regions associated with the lost limb are now connected to damaged nerves that are no longer connected to anything. So, instead of wasting the available space, the brain reconnects itself so that the region previously connected to the missing limb now connects to another part of the body.
So when an amputee feels phantom pain, it is likely the result of a sensation from another part of the body. For example, the cheek area often “reconnects” to the area associated with the loss of a hand. So when you shave, you may experience unpleasant sensations in the lost hand.
Understanding this still doesn’t make it possible to take steps to eliminate phantom pain, but it can reassure those who live in the mystery surrounding this problem. Also, it can help identify possible ways to reduce pain. Someone who shaves may eventually think about shaving less often, or less vigorously, for example.
Treatments for phantom limbs
One of the most common treatments for phantom pain is the use of opioids. For those suffering from acute phantom pain, 5-10% of all amputees, this may be necessary. Unfortunately, it is highly addictive and has a wide range of side effects causing nausea, constipation, liver damage, brain damage and bloating.
This is where cannabis comes in. Cannabis has powerful painkiller effects, and it seems to be very effective even for phantom pain, as many people claim. Some people can eliminate almost any form of pain with a mixture of cannabis and opioids. Cannabis can reduce the dose of medication and thus reduce side effects.
Another potentially interesting treatment is the mirror box treatment. Developed by Dr. V.S Ramachandran, this remedy is effective for those who have a phantom limb that also paralyzed. It involves using a system of mirrors to “see” the remaining limb moving in place of the missing limb. In a way, this can trick the brain into believing that the phantom pain repaired, and it often reduces the pain.