Diabetic neuropathy is a form of neuropathic pain that results from chronic irregular blood glucose levels, and/or lack of sufficient circulation to the body’s extremities and organ systems. When compromised in this manner, nerves throughout the body can become damaged and cease to communicate with the central nervous system in a normal way. As such, people suffering from diabetic neuropathy can experience sharp, shooting pains, dull numbing pains, or even complete numbness.
In this article, we discuss some of the common causes of diabetic neuropathy, what population identities are most at risk, and what (if any) potential CBD oil has in treating this increasingly common condition.
Diabetic Neuropathy: What is it, and who’s at risk
Of course, people who have been diagnosed with either Type I or Type II diabetes will be most at risk of developing diabetic neuropathy. As we’ve mentioned, damage to the nerves comes from chronic irregularities in blood glucose levels, which ultimately results in a lack of nourishment to the afflicted cells. When “malnourished,” these neurons become damaged and their ability to communicate with the brain and spinal cord becomes subsequently compromised.
Moreover, consistent high blood glucose levels are also related to a weakening of the walls of small blood vessels, which compromises the vessel’s ability to deliver oxygen, sugar, and other nutrients to the nerve cells.
Here are the four most common types of neuropathic pain that are associated with diabetic neuropathy (although patients may suffer from more than one type):
- Peripheral neuropathy: This is by far the most common form of diabetic neuropathy, as it affects primarily the lower extremities (legs and feet). In later stages, however, it can affect the arms and hands as well. Symptoms can include sharp or dull pains, numbness, tingling sensations, and loss of muscle strength in the afflicted areas
- Autonomic neuropathy: This is nerve damage that occurs in organ systems such as the heart, stomach, intestines, reproductive systems, and eyes. Naturally, nerve damage in any of these areas can cause severe side effects, including: blindness, increased heart rate, erratic blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, inability to control bladder and/or bowel movements, difficulty swallowing, and an inability to regulate body temperature
- Diabetic amyotrophy: This form of neuropathy is most common in people with Type II diabetes, and it affects nerves in the thighs, hips, legs and buttocks (typically on just one side of the body). Symptoms include atrophy of the leg and thigh muscles, abdominal swelling, and unexpected weight loss.
- Mononeuropathy: This is damage to a single nerve (most commonly in the foot, lower leg, chest/abdomen, and face) that causes extreme and sudden pain
In terms of risk factors associated with the onset of diabetic neuropathy, it has been shown that all of the following may increase the likelihood of developing diabetes-induced nerve damage:
- Smoking and excessive alcohol intake (smoking is known to cause arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which reduces blood flow to the legs and feet)
- Inadequate maintenance/control of blood sugar levels
- The length and severity of your diabetic condition (the longer you’ve had diabetes, the more likely your are to develop some form of diabetic neuropathy)
- Diabetes-induced kidney disease
CBD Oil for Diabetic Neuropathy: What We Know From Scientific Research
To be clear, there has not to date been any clinical trials conducted on the effects of CBD oil for diabetic neuropathy. As such, any potential for CBD (or other cannabis compounds) to help treat the condition will have stemmed from speculative research that has been carried out mostly on animal models and/or cultured nerve cells.
That being said, the roles of CBD as a neuroprotectant and an analgesic (pain reliever) are very well known, and have been well-documented in recent years. In fact, the U.S. government actually holds a patent on the compound for its ability to protective nerve cells from damage and disease-induced degeneration.
As such, some researchers and physicians are speculating that a high-grade CBD oil may very well have the ability to protect nerve cells from diabetes-induced neuropathy, and perhaps even reverse damage that has already begun.
And indeed, the small amount of research that has been done seems to support this hypothesis. Let’s take a look at a few of the most relevant studies that have been carried out to date:
- 2012 publication in the Journal of Experimental Medicine shows that CBD suppresses both inflammatory and neuropathy-induced pain.
This study essentially observed the effects of CBD on nociceptive (pain) regulation in rat nerve cells, and found that the active compound acted as an analgesic (pain reliever) for neuropathy-related pain. Here is a statement released by the lead researchers: “We report that systemic and intrathecal [spinal cord] administration of cannabidiol (CBD), a major non-psychoactive component of marijuana, and its modified derivatives significantly suppress chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain without causing apparent analgesic tolerance in rodents.
In other words, it was observed that CBD significantly reduced neuropathy-related pain without establishing any serious form of tolerance to the active compound (which is one of the main problems in other neuropathy pain relievers like prescription opioids).
- 2006 study in Current Neuropharmacology shows cannabinoid receptors to have “therapeutic value” against neuropathic pains.
This study was basically a review of existing research on cannabis extracts (including THC and CBD) and their role in treating both acute and chronic pain, including neuropathic pain. It was concluded that “Cannabinoid receptor agonists have shown therapeutic value against inflammatory and neuropathic pains, conditions that are often refractory [unmanageable] to therapy.” It was also noted, however, that advanced “double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials” would be needed in order to develop a more clear idea of how exactly the physiological pathway works.
- 2008 publication in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management observe the role of CBD in the management of “difficult to treat pain.”
This was another study that reviewed already-completed research, and in fact zeroed in on some studies that incorporated randomized clinical trials for the effectiveness of cannabinoids on general pain management. It concluded with the statement that, “Numerous randomized clinical trials have demonstrated safety and efficacy for Sativex [an FDA approved cannabis-based medication] in central and peripheral neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer pain.”
Though Sativex is technically a synthetic cannabinoid, it should in theory employ many of the same therapeutic characteristics as “natural” cannabinoids, including both THC and CBD oil.
- 2008 study in Phytotherapy Research shows Cannabis sativa extracts to have analgesic effects on neuropathic pain in rat models.
This study aimed to get a little more complex and actually try and identify some of the chemical/physiological mechanisms that are involved in the cannabinoid-based management of neuropathic pain. It found that, when tested in a “rat model of neuropathic pain,” cannabis extracts (of which “multiple cannabinoids” were present) provided “better antinociceptive (pain relieving) efficacy than [a] single cannabinoid given alone.”
In other words, the study verified that while active cannabinoids are an effective means to treat neuropathy-related pain, whole-plant extracts that include CBD, terpenes, flavonoids, and other natural cannabis compounds, are more effective than is CBD by itself (this has been verified in other studies as well, and is actually a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.”
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Neuropathic Pain
In conclusion, we want to reiterate the fact that there have not yet been any specific clinical trials carried out on CBD for diabetic neuropathy. While plenty of current research exists showing the ability of CBD to act as a neuroprotectant and aid in neuropathy-related pain management, what we ultimately need is FDA approval and advanced clinical trials so that physicians can begin prescribing the cannabis-based compound as a large-scale treatment option.
Will CBD oil work for your diabetic neuropathy and help in the day-to-day management of your nerve-related pain? Well, we certainly cannot make any claims or guarantees that it will, but at the end of the day, it is hard to ignore the fact that the 100% natural compound is a known neuroprotectant (meaning it works to prevent damage and degeneration to nerve cells), as well as a known analgesic (pain reliever). If you are seriously considering trying a high-quality CBD oil for diabetic neuropathy, then our review of the 25 best CBD oils for 2018 would probably be a good place to start in terms of finding a safe and high-quality oil from a reliable brand.