How Cannabis Helps Neuropathy
Nearly 20 million Americans live with neuropathy, and for many, relief can be elusive. Causes, symptoms, and treatments vary greatly from person to person. Many haven’t found relief with traditional pain medication, much of which is ineffective on nerve pain. Cannabis, however, has been found to help.
What is neuropathy?
Neuropathy describes a wide range of conditions that stem from damage to the peripheral nervous system (1). This system is responsible for carrying signals from the central nervous system to the rest of your body, and vice versa. If your hands are cold, for example, the peripheral nervous system carries that information to your central nervous system, signaling to your brain that you should put on some gloves.
Nerve damage disrupts the way these signals normally work, leading to a variety of symptoms largely dependent on which types of nerves are affected. Some common symptoms associated with neuropathy include:
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Reduction in muscle mass
- Uncontrolled muscle twitching
- Strange sensations of touch
- Loss of reflexes
- Loss of ability to feel pain
The most common cause of neuropathy is thought to be damage stemming from an injury which physically damages nerves, rendering them unable to properly transmit signals. Additionally, conditions like diabetes, systemic autoimmune disorders, kidney and liver diseases, certain cancers, and chemotherapy treatments can cause neuropathy.
How does cannabis help neuropathy?
Cannabis is thought to help relieve neuropathic pain by assisting the peripheral nervous system’s two-way signaling. When pain signals are sent to the central nervous system, your endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabinoid activity helps the central nervous system “acknowledge” the pain signal. In turn, this prevents the central nervous system from repeatedly sending pain signals back to the part of your body affected by neuropathy. This process is disrupted by neuropathy – because the nerves cannot properly feel pain signals, your central nervous system continuously sends out pain messages to the affected body part. Consuming cannabis can help shut down the repetition of those erroneous signals.
Cannabis is especially promising for neuropathy patients because this type of pain is resilient and very difficult to treat. Opioid-based painkillers are a very common option, but they are only effective in about 50 percent of neuropathy patients (2), not to mention opioids’ high risk of abuse and significant side effects. Cannabinoids, however, have been observed to be more effective because they can block pain signals from interacting with your ECS’s CB1 receptors, which are densely clustered within the central nervous system.
What the research says about cannabis and neuropathy
Like with many cannabinoid-based therapies, researchers are learning more every day about the connection between cannabis and neuropathy. However, we have promising research – and countless patient testimony – about how this plant can help calm pain signaling and reduce symptoms of this disorder.
It has been well established in these animal studies that “cannabinoids are highly potent and efficacious antihyperalgesic agents in a model of neuropathic pain (3).” This means cannabinoids can mitigate the enhanced sensitivity to pain reported by many neuropathy patients.
We are not without human examples of cannabinoids’ effectiveness for neuropathy treatment, although few human studies have been conducted.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study published in 2012 demonstrated that low doses of cannabis, when vaporized, significantly improved neuropathic pain (4). Of the 39 patients that inhaled a low dose, medium dose, or placebo cannabis vapor, both the low and medium dose subjects reported significant pain relief consistent with other types of analgesic products.
Medical cannabis products for neuropathy
Neuropathy can be an ideal companion treatment to help improve symptoms along your current regimen of care. Consult with your doctor about whether cannabis products could be effective in combination with your existing treatments, including but not limited to:
- Prescription medications
- Herbal supplements
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications
- Chiropractic treatments
- Physical therapy
Research suggests the most effective methods of cannabis consumption for neuropathic pain are systemic, meaning cannabinoids circulate through your bloodstream to reach your entire body. Human studies focus on vaporization, which is a relatively fast-acting method of consumption, to support rapid relief when pain symptoms begin. However, ingestible forms of cannabis like capsules are also systemic methods of consumption. Edibles are particularly long-lasting, extending relief over a prolonged period even though the effects take longer to kick in.
While topical products are not systemic, there might be some unique cases in which topicals can help reduce localized burning or tingling. Topicals can be used alongside ingestible or inhalable cannabis to help with neuropathy symptoms as needed.
Whichever type of product you choose, cannabis therapies for neuropathic pain must be ongoing and consistent. This is especially important in the case of combination therapies, in which one form of treatment deliberately dovetails with cannabinoids to maximize effectiveness.
The link between cannabis and neuropathy is clear as research continues
Finding the right cannabis product can be a trial and error process. At Ethos, we are dedicated to making it this process personalized and easy to access, ensuring you take home the products that deliver the results you need. As your partners in education, we look forward to helping you make your cannabis journey helpful, insightful, and fun.