In many ways, treating phantom pain is still a guessing game. Doctors often prescribe conventional painkillers and encourage acupuncture, massage, and virtual reality therapy. Lin is a researcher at UCSD, so throughout the process he was surrounded by doctors and neuroscientists who helped him navigate the trials. Lin tried mirror box therapy – using a mirror to reflect his one remaining limb and make it look like there are two legs.
“I wanted to stare at the reflection – as if it were an extension of my original leg. It’s a really simple old trick. You do it in a way to tell your mind that there is a story where the pain you feel is okay – that it is healed. But each time the mirror disappeared, the pain quickly began to rush in again. And it makes sense. It̵
In an attempt to rewrite his reality, Lin tried a number of things beyond what doctors recommended: Kundalini yoga, meditation. But nothing worked. Lin describes the depression he slipped into as absolute despair. “If you feel uncomfortable pain directly, it’s like gasping for air – you just want some relief.” Pain medication did not do much, and fear of addiction and dependence made him wary of opioids.
Lin knew many people involved in scientific research into psychedelics. Through spokesman for figures such as Michael Pollan and Tim Ferris, treating depression and other mental disorders with guided drug travel is fast becoming commonplace. (Last year, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, in a mental health context.) And recently, research has been done into whether psilocybin can effectively treat various forms of chronic physical pain.
“My partner at the time suggested we go out in the middle of nowhere with mirrors and a heavy dose of psilocybin,” Lin said. It worked. “Within 30 minutes, I made a handstand. Literally handstand. I was free of pain. I moved my leg in and out of the sand in a way so I could see the moment my amputation appeared and I pressed it into my mind and said: it is okay. Repeatedly: it is okay. ”
Lin only took psilocybin once. He describes his pain going from 10 out of 10 to zero. But he is also quick to say that it is not magical. “There are so many things that go into this that are very important – I was in a good and safe environment with a partner who was ready to help me rewrite my story in a way that was focused on positivity. ” But he warns that the ability to quickly reshape your mind – also known as neuroplasticity – also poses dangers. “It is not as if psilocybin is this purely positive source. It has so much to do with attitude, intentions, society. Neuroplasticity can be used in many ways, such as getting people ready to go to war. You need to facilitate the positive result. ”
Lins traces of experience with ongoing experiments that seem to suggest that a single use of psilocybin could help patients with chronic pain. Dr. Tim Furnish is the director of inpatient pain consulting services at the UCSD Center for Pain Medicine, where he helped treat Lin after his accident. “Albert tried pretty much every drug we would throw at that kind of thing,” Furnish says. “And nothing really did much of anything.” Lin came to Furnish after taking psilocybin and told him the pain was gone. “It was remarkable from the point of view of someone who treats chronic pain. Not much we do in terms of medication to treat pain lowers it to zero. It’s quite unusual. We are generally quite happy when people have a 50% reduction in their pain. “So they started looking specifically at what psilocybin does in this situation. “We know that it changes these cortical connections in ways that may resemble mirror box therapy. But is it essentially a mirror box with supercharging, or does it do something all alone that allows altered cortical connections to reset themselves? “The answers to these questions can make Lin’s powerful anecdote a treatment option for anyone experiencing this type of pain.