Phantom Pain


marijuana for phantom pain

For patients dealing with physically and mentally debilitating effects of phantom pain, medical cannabis offers real relief. Phantom pain can impact a person’s quality of life, and it affects around 50 to 80 percent of all amputees. Fortunately, medical cannabis can mean relief from this life-altering, persistent pain. Continue reading to learn more about phantom pain and how medical marijuana and phantom pain treatment can help with symptoms of pain, itching, depression and other unpleasant symptoms of this condition.

What Is Phantom Pain?

Phantom limb pain is neuropathic pain people can experience after they have a limb surgically amputated. The pain usually links with feelings the limb is still attached to your body. It’s often hard to distinguish between phantom pain and stump pain, the latter of which happens when you experience pain in the remaining stump following amputation.

The condition affects both men and women similarly. It also occurs independently of the side, age or level of amputation. Individuals with brief pre-amputation pain and those who didn’t have pain in their limb the day before their amputation have a substantially lower occurrence of phantom pain.

Phantom pain also affects children. Studies have shown it’s present in a minimum of 20 percent of congenitally limb-deficient kids, who are children born without a limb, and in 50 percent of all kids who undergo amputation surgery before they reach six years old.

Chronic pain can be an incapacitating condition, affecting every area of your life. It can cause the simplest of tasks, such as tying your shoes or buttoning your shirt, to be a struggle. Over time, chronic phantom pain can take a genuine toll, and you could find yourself feeling depressed and down because of your continuous struggle with the pain.

Types of Phantom Pain

You can feel numerous forms of phantom pain sensations when you have an amputation.

  • Sensations of movement: You feel like your phantom limb is moving.
  • Sensations related to the length, posture, and volume of the phantom limb: You feel like the phantom limb is acting like a normal limb, such as feeling the phantom limb is just as heavy as the other one or like sitting with your knee bent.
  • Sensations of pressure, touch, itchiness, and temperature: You may feel tingling, heat, pain, and itchiness.

types of phantom pain

Causes of Phantom Pain

Unlike pain resulting from limb trauma, experts believe phantom limb pain is due to mixed signals from your spinal cord or brain. It is an essential notion to consider since the treatment for phantom pain differs from the treatment you’d receive for other types of pain.

As with any pain, you might find certain conditions or activities will trigger phantom pain. Some triggers may include touch, angina, smoking, changes in barometric pressure or exposure to cold. You can’t prevent barometric pressure from changing, but you can understand your phantom pain may be more severe on days where the weather makes a significant shift.

If you begin noticing any particular things that trigger a phantom pain episode, let your doctor know. You may be able to avoid some triggers by quitting smoking or preventing constipation. For other triggers, however, you’ll have to figure them out and treat accordingly.

Symptoms of Phantom Pain

Phantom pain characteristics include:

  • A pain that’s continuous or comes and goes.
  • A pain onset in your first week after amputation or delayed by several months or more.
  • A pain you might describe as stabbing, shooting, pins and needles, cramping, throbbing, crushing or burning.
  • A set of symptoms that affect the part of your limb farthest from your body, like the foot of an amputated leg.

Along with the pain, you could also sense other sensations from a missing body part such as:

  • Vibration
  • Movement
  • Itch
  • Pressure
  • Temperature

Your phantom pain symptoms may present shortly after amputation surgery, and they could last for seconds or extend for days. Most people find the duration and frequency diminishes during the initial six months, but some people have phantom sensations or pain for years following their amputation.

Complications of Phantom Pain

Phantom pain complications aren’t numerous, because phantom pain itself is a limb amputation complication. However, you might find sleeping difficult or develop emotional anxiety or depression from your condition. In some cases, neuromas, a form of growth, could develop on your amputated nerves and increase your pain.

complications of phantom pain

Current Available Treatments for Phantom Pain

For some individuals, phantom pain starts getting better over time without being treated. For others, it can be challenging to manage phantom pain. Your doctor will work closely with you to address your phantom pain with medicine or other therapies.

Treating phantom limb pain effectively requires a multipronged approach involving various medicines combined with non-medicine treatments. This combination of medicine/non-medicine is similar to the treatment of other painful conditions. New phantom pain therapies all include attempting to change the spinal cord or brain signals.

1. Medications

Several different medicine categories can reduce your pain, each of which affects various types of pain sensations. Some medicines your doctor may prescribe you and their side effects include the following.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen: NSAIDs may cause stomach ulcers, heartburn, stomach pain or ringing in the ears. Acetaminophen may cause stomach pain, headache, nausea, itching or rash.
  • Anticonvulsants: May cause drowsiness, dizziness, rash, tremor or weight gain.
  • Antidepressants: May cause insomnia, dry mouth, nausea, weight gain or increased appetite.
  • Muscle relaxants: May cause blurred vision, fatigue, drowsiness, headache, dry mouth or loss of appetite.
  • Opioids: May cause nausea, constipation, and addiction.
  • Beta-blockers: May cause dry mouth, weakness, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue or a headache.

Some of these medicines work best if you combine them with other drugs and if you take them at specific times of the day. For instance, antidepressants usually work best if you take them at bedtime, and are often also useful in combination with anticonvulsants. Finding the proper medicines with the fewest side effects requires working closely with your doctor.

2. Non-Medication Treatments

Complementary or alternative therapies could help reduce phantom pain. These include:

  • Massage of the residual limb
  • Acupuncture
  • Brain stimulation
  • Biofeedback
  • Mirror box therapy
  • Music
  • Imagery

A newer therapy to treat phantom pain researchers are studying is virtual reality goggles. This treatment uses goggles with a computer program to mirror your intact limb to look like you do not have an amputation. When wearing the virtual reality headset, you move your virtual limb around to perform various tasks.

marijuana as alternative treatment

Medical Marijuana as an Alternative Treatment for Phantom Pain

Because phantom pain can be challenging for doctors to treat, patients are looking to medical cannabis to offer relief. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of CB1 and CB2 receptors located all over your body. Researchers believe the ECS provides a connection between mind and body, promoting a state of balance or homeostasis. When you have a health problem, this balance becomes damaged, but marijuana’s cannabinoids can act with the receptors to restore balance.

Since phantom pain involves the pain sensation, even when there isn’t a limb there, experts believe dosing with medical marijuana for phantom pain could help relieve the condition’s symptoms. A study Neurology published in 2007 showed medical cannabis decreased individuals’ pain by more than 30 percent in just five days.

Individuals also prefer to use medical weed over pharmaceutical medicines, since opioids doctors commonly prescribe for pain can lead to severe and debilitating side effects, including addiction. Some of these medicines make it hard to perform everyday tasks and could even lead to a deadly overdose.

How Medical Marijuana Treats Phantom Pain

1. Pain

According to the National Institutes of Health, chronic pain is one of the most common causes of long-term disability. Advocates of medical marijuana claim it’s an effective way of relieving chronic pain. Once you ingest cannabis, its cannabinoids open specific receptors in your body so the medicine can begin providing you relief.

Strains for pain include:

  • Blue Dream (hybrid)
  • Afghan Kush (Indica)
  • Granddaddy Purple (Indica)

2. Itch

Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation causing you to feel the need to scratch. It’s another symptom of phantom pain that, when chronic, can impact an individual’s mental well-being profoundly.

Clinics in Dermatology published a study showing far more people with idiopathic generalized itchy skin had symptoms of depression compared with controls. Marijuana and phantom pain acts on various fronts to reduce the hyper-proliferation of cells, decreasing the itch.

Anti-itch strains to try are:

  • Blackberry Kush (Indica)
  • Permafrost (hybrid)
  • Blueberry (Indica)

3. Depression and Anxiety

Research shows medical cannabis can help ease anxiety. Researchers found there to be a lot of promise in lower doses of CBD for anxiety, OCD, panic attacks and PTSD.

treat depression and anxiety

Strains to try for anxiety are:

  • Northern Lights (Indica)
  • Chocolate Chunk (Indica)
  • Amnesia Haze (Sativa)

As mentioned earlier, depression can occur in some phantom pain patients. Depression can severely impact your quality of life, making you feel constantly unhappy or miserable. Individuals have been using cannabis for many years to relieve their depressive symptoms. One survey of 4,400 individuals showed those who used the herb had fewer depressive symptoms than those who didn’t.

Depression strains include:

  • Jack Herer (Sativa)
  • Harlequin (hybrid)
  • Pineapple Express (hybrid)

Side Effects of Medical Marijuana

Like with any medication, cannabis can come with some side effects, although most are mild and temporary. Some side effects of medical weed to look out for are as follows.

  1. Uneasiness or anxiety: While small amounts of THC can relieve anxiety and produce calming effects, larger doses for some individuals might bring on mild angst — even panic.
  2. Dry mouth and thirst: Many people develop “cotton mouth” after using medical marijuana. It’s a common side effect of the herb. You might also become incredibly thirsty. When this occurs, try drinking water before using cannabis and continue drinking it during and after your treatment. Chewing gum can help alleviate dry mouth.
  3. Hunger: While not all people get “the munchies” when using cannabis, some do experience intense hunger.
  4. Memory: Marijuana for phantom pain may cause short-term memory loss. Individuals who use the herb sometimes lose their train of thought in the middle of a conversation.
  5. Red eyes: Marijuana dilates the blood vessels in your eyes, causing your eyes to appear bloodshot and red. Eye drops can help with this.
  6. Respiratory issues: Only cannabis vapers and smokers need to worry about their medication leading to respiratory problems. If your cannabis treatment begins damaging your lungs, you can switch to another method of taking your medication.
  7. Drowsiness: Drowsiness could be a good side effect for those who have sleep problems or anxiety. Medical weed, especially THC strains, is known to cause drowsiness, so you may want to time your doses for bedtime if you find this side effect gets in your way of daily functioning.
  8. Giddiness: Cannabis can cause giddiness, affecting your ability to perform everyday living activities. It can get in the way of work or school. If you find your medical marijuana treatment makes you giddy and affects your daily functioning, you should adjust your medicine time.
  9. Insomnia: Insomnia typically occurs in individuals who use Sativa strains, which promote energy. Since you will most likely use a CBD-rich strain, you might not have to worry about insomnia. If you find medical cannabis affects your sleep, you may want to take your medicine at a time where it will have worn off by the time you go to bed at night.

ways to use

The Best Ways to Use Medical Marijuana for Phantom Pain

Use medical marijuana for phantom pain internally or topically to find relief. Some of the best methods of using the herb are as follows.

  • Inhalation: When you inhale cannabis, you’ll experience instant relief, typically within a minute or two of smoking or vaping it.
  • Tinctures: You place tinctures under your tongue or swallow them. You obtain fairly quick results with tinctures as well.
  • Raw juice: Juicing your cannabis works similar to taking a dietary supplement, where you’ll drink the juice several times a day. It will relieve your pain without getting you “high,” since it’s not heated.
  • Edibles: Edibles take a little longer to take effect because they’re essentially food and need to get through your digestive tract before your liver can metabolize it. However, the effects you get last longer and are usually more psychotropic.
  • Cannabis oil: Marijuana oil provides you with a different experience. You use cannabis oils in small doses, scaling them up gradually. They deliver high concentrated amounts of cannabinoids to your body.

Learn How to Start Your Medical Marijuana for Phantom Pain Treatment

As your physician about medical pot and which strain will work best for your phantom pain. Not all doctors have experience in medical marijuana treatment. Therefore, if you are looking for a qualified cannabis doctor, look no further than Marijuana Doctors.

We provide a comprehensive list of doctors and dispensaries to help you begin your medical weed treatment. Book your appointment today to get started.

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