In this short episode of the Migraine Miracle Moment, learn the surprising similarities between the brain during a migraine attack, and a brain on heroin.
LINKS mentioned in the episode:
Migrai-Neverland, our private member community: https://www.mymigrainemiracle.com/join
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I mentioned in the premiere episode of The Miracle Moment that I’d’be doing some “inbetweeinsodes,” shorter segments in between the full length episodes, and this is one of them.
And the topic is “what migraine sufferers and heroin users have in common. So where on earth am I going with that, you ask?
So I’m doing this particular episode as much for the benefit of my fellow migraine sufferers as I am for your friends and family. And that’s because one of the challenges people with migraines face is that the pain and suffering that they experience occurs without any visible signs of illness.
There’s no fever, no blood gushing from anywhere, no hacking cough, no blisters. Sometimes there may be violent wretching, but otherwise there’s nothing to see.
There’s nothing outwardly that can indicate the misery that you’re feeling inside. As I mentioned in the last episode, even i can’t remember just how bad it is when I have don’t have one. It’s only when I’m in the midst of one that I can fully appreciate it.
Now, there’s a lot of confusion about just what migraines are. And that’s not too surprising, because they’re a pretty bizarre and unique phenomenon, so there’s not much to compare them to.
Like i said earlier, there are no visible signs of illness or injury. There’s no ice pick shoved into the side of your head, no cracked skull, as much as it may seem like that’s the case.
So how is it possible to experience a pain worse than you can possibly imagine and there be nothing physically wrong with you? The sole purpose of pain is to be an alert system, to notify us when something has happened that threatens our survival, so we can alter our behavior accordingly.
So if we touch a hot stove, for example, we can pull our finger away before it burns through our flesh. It’s like a fire alarm that’s set off when there’s a fire to alert us to get out.
What then are we to make of the pain of migraines, where we have the alarm system going off when there’s no fire?
Which brings me to the topic of heroin! So the opposite of pain is of course pleasure.
And just as pain is our brain’s signal telling us to stop doing whatever it is we’re doing that’s causing pain, pleasure is our brain’s signal telling us to KEEP doing whatever it is we’re doing that’s bringing us pleasure.
It’s a system designed to encourage behaviors that promote our survival. At least, that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work.
But everything we feel, including pleasure and pain, is produced by the brain, in particular by neurotransmitter signals passed along inside of vast networks of neurons. Ultimately, when we feel pleasure, it’s because whatever we did turned on those brain networks that produce our feeling of pleasure.
And when we feel pain, it’s because whatever we did turned on those brain networks that produce our feeling of pain.
Now one defining feature of human beings is that we like to monkey with stuff, including our own brains and our own perceptions. Ever since we discovered that ingesting or smoking certain plant substances could change the way we felt, we started learning more and more about how to monkey with our brain chemistry to make us feel good.
And we’re able to do this because, rather than turning the brain’s pleasure centers on by engaging in some behavior that’s good for us, that helps us survive, we’re instead turning those pleasure networks on directly through chemicals.
And the ultimate problem with this, and the reason substances that do this, like morphine or heroin, are so addictive, is that they do so in a way that is never possible in the course of ordinary life. And because of that, the intensity of pleasure that’s experienced is greater than anything that would result from ordinary behaviors.
I don’t have personal direct experience with these substances, but we know this to be true from the reports of those who have used them, and from the research in this area. We know that it creates an intensity of experience unmatched by anything that could be produced in the course of ordinary life.
There’s nothing you can do in the course of regular life that would turn on all the pleasure circuits in the same way as a drug like heroin. And so with that in mind it’s not hard to understand why this creates such a problem.
The drug creates an intensely pleasurable experience, and the only way to feel that way again is to take the drug again; even worse, as the brain gets used to it, it takes more and more drug to feel the same way, which we refer to as tolerance.
And, worse yet, ordinary life becomes increasingly dull and grey by comparison. Now nothing in life makes you feel anything anymore, and then only way of experiencing pleasure at all is through the drug.
In migraine, we have almost the exact same scenario going on, with a couple of key differences.
The first difference is that instead of turning on all the pleasure circuits, we’re turning on all the pain circuits. There are several different pathways in the brain that can get “turned on” during a migraine, and the one most relevant to pain is the one that involves a structure called the trigeminal nucleus caudalis, which is where all the nerves that sense pain in the skull converge.
This nucleus, which sits at the base of the brain, is sort of central headquarters for registering pain in the cranium. And it’s supposed to get turned on when there’s some sort of insult or injury to the skull, as we discussed.
But during a migraine, it’s the migraine process itself is turning on the nucleus DIRECTLY. That activation then starts a chain of events that ultimately results in a perpetual feedback loop that causes the pain to continue to amplify over time.
If that sounds sadistic and evil, that’s because it is! And so one way to view migraine is as a malfunction of the brain’s pain sensing system, in particular for pain in the cranium
One of the greatest challenges in working with people who’ve just started experiencing them is in communicating this concept. Oftentimes failure to appreciate it leads to all sorts of unnecessary testing and blind alleys (incidentally this type of problem is not just limited to migraine).
Because it’s normal to think pain that bad must surely mean something terrible has happened inside our skulls, yet we can’t find any sign of any trouble. So just this having this basic understanding that the pain of migraine is a result of a malfunctioning pain system allows you understand why there can be such horrific pain in the absence of pathology inside the skull.
So just like with heroin, which is turning on pleasure circuits directly, and with an intensity that you’d never experience in ordinary life, with migraine your turning on the PAIN circuits directly, and with an intensity that you’d never experience in ordinary life
It’s the pain system malfunctioning. It’s like a short circuit in the fire alarm turning it on, rather than a fire, and in this case turning the alarm on way way louder than a fire ever would.
But the concept is the same – the migraine process, just like heroin, is turning on all the brain’s pain circuits (particularly the ones that sense pain inside theskull), in a way that would never happen in the course of ordinary life.
And this is another reason why migraines are so hard for others to relate to, because there isn’t anything else you can experience in the course of ordinary life that feels like it.
It’s not like falling down and hitting your head. There the pain is short lived and localized, enough to give you the signal that you shouldn’t do that sort of thing, but no longer than it needs to be to serve that purpose.
Furthermore you’re often experiencing multiple different types of pain. and rather than just starting at peak intensity and dissipating, it just keeps going and going and going and sadistically, worsening over time.
So hopefully that’s a useful analogy for you folks, and perhaps a useful analogy to share with those who have trouble relating to what you’re going through. In future episodes, we will dig a bit further into the specifics of what’s happening inside the brain during a migraine, because there’s so much misleading information out there.
Lastly, I wanted to announce that we’ve just put up the registration page for our Migraine Miracle Jump Start Challenge, which I mentioned in the last episode.
As part of the challenge, you’ll move through the newly created Beastslayer Training Academy, and you’ll have access to a private Facebook group for you and your fellow classmates, along with Jenny and I, and together we’ll give each other the support, guidance and accountability we need to make it through.
Over the years, I’ve realized that there was really a core set of concepts that were essential for people to know and understand to be successful with the migraine miracle plan. Those concepts are covered in the book the Migraine Miracle, but I know it’s unlikely people will retain all the information in a book from a single read through. I certainly don’t.
So I wanted to provide a course where, if people went through and completed it, I could be sure they had all of those key concepts.
So as part of the Jump Start challenge, you’ll be moving through that course along with your classmates.
So if you’re fairly new to the plan and want guidance in getting started, or you’ve been doing it a bit but want a boost of momentum, or want a community to give you some accountability, or just want to make sure you have the key concepts and knowledge you need to be successful , then we’d love to have you.
We want to take the process of getting started and transform it from something a bit overwhelming that you do alone, to something that’s fun that you do with a group who know exactly what you’re going through.
So take a look there. You can either join that challenge by itself, or become a member of Migrai-Neverland, and you’ll have unlimited access to that and all future challenges, in addition to the other benefits of being member. And you’ll find links links to both of those in the description.
Alright, I’ll see you folks again soon with the next episode of The Miracle Moment. Now go slay the beast!