Chronic phantom limb pain (PLP) can be a debilitating condition. For those who suffer from PLP, it affects every area of life, causing even the simplest of tasks to be a struggle. Although some people report that their phantom pain gets resolved without treatment, others can find themselves depressed because of the continuous battle with phantom pain.
Phantom limb pain is caused by mental and physical activity, as well as post-amputation changes in the residual limb and the brain. During the first two years after an amputation, phantom pain affects 65-85% of amputees. Past the second or third year, severe chronic phantom limb pain affects 5-10% of amputees.
Phantom pain treatment options
Treating phantom limb pain often requires a multi-pronged approach, which involves various medicines combined with non-medicine treatments. There are multiple treatments currently available for phantom limb pain. Medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anticonvulsants, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, beta-blockers, and opioids. Meanwhile, non-medication treatments include acupuncture, biofeedback, brain stimulation, imagery, mirror box therapy, music, and massage.
For many people, opioids are among the most effective. It enables them to return to their daily lives. However, they often have to take medication to manage the side effects, such as constipation and nausea.
On top of the side effects, most develop opioid dependency because it's easy to build a tolerance to opioids. This leads to constant changes in dosage and formulations. The medicines then become increasingly ineffective, and one's quality of life is compromised.
Increasingly alarming is the number of deaths associated with opioid overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 46,802 opioid-related deaths in the U.S. in 2018. In the same year, opioid overdose accounts for 69.5% of all drug overdose deaths.
Medical marijuana: A better solution?
Because phantom limb pain can be challenging to treat, physicians and amputees are turning to medical marijuana for relief. This option is relatively safer. According to the CDC, fatal overdose due to medical marijuana is highly unlikely.
The reason why marijuana works for phantom limb pain is because of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that consists of CB1 and CB2 receptors located all over the human body. Researchers believe that the ECS is responsible for promoting a state of balance as it provides a connection between the body and mind. When this balance becomes damaged due to a health problem, cannabinoids can act with the receptors to restore it.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 22 states, while recreational marijuana is only available in 11 states plus Washington, D.C. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, even though cannabis remains federally illegal.
How to take medical marijuana
Taking medical marijuana for the treatment of phantom limb pain doesn't mean you will be "high" all day. Some of the best methods for taking it include cannabis oil, edibles, inhalation, raw juice, and tinctures.
Some people find that having medicated candy with them at all times is convenient. This ensures that they can have their dose no matter where they may be. The effect you get with this method lasts longer; however, it also takes a little longer to take effect.
Inhaling cannabis through a vape pen allows you to experience instant relief, typically within a minute or two. Tinctures can be taken under your tongue or added to your tea. The results are relatively quick, as well.
Juicing cannabis might take a bit more effort than the other methods, considering that you need to drink it several times a day. Meanwhile, cannabis oil, more commonly known as CBD oil, provides a different experience. Most users recommend starting with small doses and then scaling them up gradually.
If you do get the go-signal from your doctor, we recommend taking detailed notes about your experience before and after trying medical marijuana. After some experimentation, you'll figure out a regimen that works best for you. Research is virtually not allowed in the U.S. as cannabis is still federally illegal. It's up to you to discover what delivery methods and strains work best.Have you tried medical marijuana to relieve your phantom pain? Please share your experiences with the rest of the community in the comments section below.