TUCSON, Ariz. - Powerful pain killers, especially opioids have created an addiction crisis and surge in overdose deaths. But what if something as simple as the right sort of light could ease your pain and ease your need for pain meds?
Here’s an update on how researchers at University of Arizona and Banner UMC are closing in on just that.
A lot of dangerous drug addiction begins with legitimate prescriptions, prescribed for very real pain but pain patients could find relief through something as common as the sort of soothing green light that filters through the trees.
Dr. Mohab Ibrahim runs the pain clinic at Banner UMC. When his brother told him just sitting under a green canopy of trees relieved his headaches, Dr Ibrahim started researching whether the relief came from more than relaxation.
Dr. Ibrahim teamed up with University of Arizona Pharmacology professor Raj Khanna to apply strong, scientific standards to see if spending time under gentle green light helped ease patients' pain.
Dr. Ibrahim says, “So I really don't think it can replace all medications. It's not the intent for it. But if we can reduce dependence on other pain medications, we consider that a success."
Before they tried light with people, they used humane methods to make mice just a little uncomfortable, and found green light, or even tiny green contact lenses made the mice more comfortable.
Retired nurse Deborah Schaab has pain from migraines, lupus and other ailments.
She does not want to take any pain meds but she says green light therapy works for her.
"It makes you feel good. In even in the first couple of weeks, I noticed that you just made better, I slept better. And by the second to third week though I noticed a decrease in my pain."
"There's a real element of, “Kids, don't try this at home.” Number one, you don't want to be changing your treatment without consulting with your doctor; and number two, just because you can buy some green lights that doesn't mean they are the right green lights. You can end up increasing your pain if you succumb to the temptation to make them too strong to the point where you're actually hurting your eyes."
Dr. Ibrahim says they're looking for new patients, trying green light with more types of pain, and they have a one-point-seven million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to learn why green light cuts pain. They're also looking for more convenient ways to put people under the lights.
Dr. Ibrahim says, “So one of the ideas and I'm actually meeting with the bio-engineers today is to provide them with a board that's already set in terms of intensity and wavelength and they can turn it on or off with a remote control another approaches to provide something like a visor where the light will shine directly at the eye without causing any retinal damage."
As a pain patient, and a medical professional, retired nurse Deborah Schaab would like to see more approaches like using green light for pain.
She says, "A pill doesn't always cut it. You know the solution to a lot of things is not just a pop a pill or take a shot or whatever sometimes it's something very simple and something that isn't gonna hurt you."
The Green Light study is looking for new patients to see if green light therapy will help their chronic pain. If you are interested contact the program at firstname.lastname@example.org