Psilocybin and phantom pain are research areas gaining wide interest among scientists. Many believe that psilocybin could be a potential treatment option for the condition in the nearest future. This article will take you through everything you should know about psilocybin and phantom pain.
Phantom limb pain is a debilitating condition that nobody would like to experience. It’s a condition that mostly occurs after amputation, and intense pain characterizes it. Sometimes, the pain usually peaks after amputation and gradually reduces. However, there are many people that continue to experience the pain for longer periods.
Currently, the available treatment option for this condition is complex and involves cognitive therapy, electrical impulse stimulation, and medications for the symptoms. However, emerging studies suggest that psychedelics like psilocybin are effective in relieving phantom limb pain.
What is Chronic Phantom Limb Pain?
Phantom limb pain occurs when a person feels unusual discomfort in an amputated body part. It is a neuropathic condition that commonly occurs in an arm or leg. Even though the pain is real, it’s important to note that there is no physical cause of the pain. However, researchers believe it results from the nervous system.
In many cases, phantom limb pain is acute and resolves after a short period, which is usually between three to six months. This is usually within the time frame required for a post-amputation wound to fully recover. In general, it’s not meant to happen for months or years after amputation, and if this happens, it’s called chronic phantom limb pain.
Chronic phantom limb pain is debilitating, and the pain sensation varies in duration and frequency. The pain sensation can be burning, twisting, shooting, tingling, aching, throbbing, cramping, stabbing, pressure, or itching.
Causes of Phantom Limb Pain
Researchers believe that the main cause of phantom limb pain is a result of mixed signals from the brain or spinal cord. Basically, signals are not correctly sent to the brain after amputation, and this leads to misinterpretation of pain sensations.
The general belief is that pain memories experienced pre-amputation are a triggering factor for chronic phantom limb pain. These memories are mostly traumatic and can trigger chronic phantom limb pain. Another thing to note is that physical conditions can cause peripheral area discomfort and trigger chronic phantom limb pain. These conditions include the following:
- Herpes zoster
- Physical touch
- Changes in pressure or temperature
- Spurs or bone infections
- Nerve inflammation
- Nerve damage
- Ill-fitting prosthetic
- Pressure wounds
- Skin or wound infections
Some triggering factors can be easily avoided, while others are not as easy. For example, misinterpreted signals result from the nervous system.
Treating Chronic Phantom Limb Pain
There are many approaches that medical practitioners use to treat phantom limb pain. This includes medications and a series of non-medicated treatment options. Some drugs relied on to ease pain symptoms include injections, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications.
Many non-medication treatment options are handy for the condition. Examples include electrical impulse stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, neurostimulation, and spinal cord stimulation.
Medical practitioners recommend virtual reality therapy, acupuncture, meditation, massage, mirror therapy, and biofeedback. Sometimes, doctors prescribe a combination of these treatment options for the best results.
People also know this as mirror visual feedback, and it’s a treatment option that is used for disabilities or pains that are on one side of the body. An example of this is phantom limb pain that occurs after amputation. Mirror therapy creates an illusion of the limb by hiding the affected limb and reflecting the intact limb. The therapy aims to trick the brain into believing there’s no pain in the affected region.
Generally, mirror visual feedback mostly relies on proprioceptive and somatosensory input-based mirror neuron systems. These neurons are triggered when a person acts or observes an action. Researchers have applied this strategy to treat phantom limb paralysis. This was mostly in patients with a phantom limb that feels like it was clenched in a painful position.
How Psilocybin Can Help Phantom Limb Pain
Psilocybin is a psychedelic and active component found in magic mushrooms. It is currently being studied for its mind-altering effects and its range of therapeutic benefits. In addition to reducing pain symptoms, researchers believe that the substance can potentially reset the brain and eliminate pain sensation.
A recent study highlights the potential for psilocybin to eliminate phantom limb pain, especially in combination with mirror therapy. The study’s volunteers tried alternatives like cannabis, opioids, and mirror therapy and only experienced little improvement.
It’s still not fully understood how psychedelics like psilocybin manage pain, but it’s related to 5HT2A receptor activation. This leads to inhibitory pain pathways within the brainstem that can suppress pain signals in the spinal cord. Serotonin receptor activation can also engage neural plasticity to reduce chronic pain signaling.
Research also suggests that psilocybin can be helpful for people with phantom limb pain because it stimulates serotonin receptors. This stimulation triggers a cross-modal sensory experience. The experience is applied in virtual reality so that individuals can see and hear what they feel. Combining this with mirror therapy further enhances the benefits of the therapy.
As mentioned earlier, psilocybin has the potential to increase neural plasticity. This allows the brain to create new connections for cross-modal cortical reorganization. This is another effect that can further enhance the benefits of mirror therapy.
There’s a need for further research to understand psilocybin and phantom limb pain better. This also includes the effectiveness of psilocybin in managing the condition. Currently available research highlights that psilocybin can stimulate serotonin receptors and increase neural plasticity. Both mechanisms are vital for enhanced cross-modal sensory experiences, which can be helpful for the brain to unlearn signal misinterpretation.
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