Also known as neuropathic pain, nerve pain occurs when a medical condition impacts the nerves that carry sensation to the brain. Those who suffer from it will tell you that it is different from other forms of pain. It often feels like a stabbing, burning, or shooting sensation. Some say it is analogous to an electric shock.
According to a study published in the Journal of Pain in 2018, up to 10% of the American population suffers from neuropathic pain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that around 20 million people in the U.S. have a form of peripheral neuropathy.
Given the agony caused by neuropathic pain, it is hardly a surprise that people are turning to opioid painkillers for relief. The obvious problem is the level of addiction caused by these powerful opioids. In recent years, an increasing number of Americans are moving towards marijuana. Those who want healing with no intoxicating high focus on cannabidiol (CBD), one of the most abundant cannabinoids in weed and industrial hemp.
In this guide to nerve pain, we provide a brief overview of the condition and look at the science behind using CBD to treat this debilitating form of pain.
What Is Nerve Pain?
There are many nerves in the body that convey an array of sensations to the brain, including pain. Not many people enjoy the feeling of pain, but it does have a crucial role to play in our health. When you feel pain, it is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. If we never experienced pain, we could seriously injure ourselves without realizing.
For individuals with neuropathic pain, the brain’s messaging system is not working. In this instance, your brain receives a pain signal, and you feel pain without any obvious cause. As it is pain with no purpose, there is no immediate way to relieve it. Different types of nerve pain include:
- Occipital: You feel pain at the base of the skull that spreads to the back of the head.
- Trigeminal: You feel pain in the cheek or jaw.
- Post-Herpetic: Affects you in the same area as the shingles rash, and often happens after you have had the condition.
- Pudendal: You feel pain in the ‘saddle region’ between the legs
In general, the nerves behave in this manner due to damage from a disease or physical injury such as:
- Cancer and other tumors
- Physical injuries that compress crush or sever the nerves
The symptoms of nerve pain vary, although in some cases your nerves will feel hypersensitive; normally innocuous things, such as the feeling of a breeze on the arm, feel very painful. Damage to your sensory nerves can result in pricking, numbness, a loss of reflexes, and tingling.
If you believe you have nerve pain, go to a doctor and allow them to run lab tests such as CT scans, MRIs, electromyography, and nerve conduction studies to see what the problem is. On occasion, a physician may also recommend a biopsy of the skin or a nerve to examine your nerve endings.
What Are the Traditional (Not CBD) Treatments for Nerve Pain?
If your neuropathic pain is caused by a disease such as HIV, cancer, or diabetes, the main priority is to treat the underlying condition which may not help with the pain. As a result, you’ll need a separate treatment for nerve pain.
Factors such as your health, financial status (sadly), potential side effects, and underlying cause, all impact the decision on the type of treatment required.
However, you are likely to receive one of the following:
- Topical treatments such as patches, gels, creams, and lotions to ease the pain in a specific area.
- Specific types of antidepressants known to help with nerve pain.
- Anticonvulsants – Normally used to treat epilepsy, these drugs could control nerve pain and may prove more effective when used in conjunction with antidepressants.
- Anti-inflammatories and opioid painkillers.
- Alternative treatments, such as meditation, massage, and acupuncture.
- Techniques such as injections of anesthetic, surgery, and electrical nerve stimulation.
CBD for Nerve Pain: How Does It Work?
There are numerous types of pain, and painkillers aren’t typically capable of treating them all; which is why it is odd when physicians encourage patients to pop them like candy. As far as nerve pain is concerned, it is created and sustained via the glutaminergic system. In case you are wondering, glutamate is a neurotransmitter responsible for turning on neurons.
CBD is believed to inhibit the release of inflammatory agents and glutamate. As a result, it could reduce the burning, tingling, and prickling sensations of neuropathic pain. As such, we might be able to use cannabidiol to help manage nerve pain, especially when used with magnesium glycinate and other natural supplements.
It is also interesting to note that inflammatory pain is related to nerve pain. Remember, CBD is often praised for its anti-inflammatory effects.
When cells become damaged in the human body due to illness or injury, the body starts producing inflammatory agents which end up on our cells.
The goal is to kill off the damaged cells. When this issue becomes a chronic condition, it is known as inflammatory pain.
While pain caused by inflammation isn’t as easy to classify as other forms of pain, CBD is believed to be excellent at calming inflammation regardless of the original cause. CBD acts very differently to anti-inflammatory drugs which work by inhibiting the COX-1 and COX-2 receptors. As a result, you don’t have an increased risk of a heart attack or gastrointestinal ulcer when you use CBD as an anti-inflammatory.
Although research into CBD’s effect on neuropathic pain is ongoing, the mechanism by which it relieves and modulates pain is still not as well understood as that of THC. For instance, we know that THC influences mood and sense perception. The psychoactive properties of the cannabinoid can help you forget the pain.
We know less about how CBD works. To date, we’re aware that CBD has an indirect effect on our cannabinoid receptors, and interferes with the processes that cause us pain. For example, CBD stops the body from absorbing the ‘bliss molecule,’ anandamide. This is important because anandamide is a fatty neurotransmitter than sends messages on pain. CBD ensures that more anandamide is available in the body.
CBD for Nerve Pain: What Does the Research Say?
As it is a cannabinoid from the marijuana plant, CBD remains federally illegal even though it also comes from industrial hemp, which is legal to grow in the United States. We hope that the new law regarding hemp helps improve the frequency, and standard, of study on CBD. While there are only a few studies relating to CBD’s effect on nerve pain, specifically, there are ample studies on how the cannabinoid could help other forms of pain.
A study by Rahn and Hohmann, published in the Neurotherapeutics Journal in October 2009, looked at the effects of cannabinoids on neuropathic pain. The study involved analyzing the effects of smoked marijuana, synthetic THC, and medicinal cannabis preparations containing THC and CBD (Sativex and Cannador).
According to the study, clinical studies “largely affirm” that cannabinoid treatment provides benefits to patients with neuropathic pain. The researchers took into account objective and subjective measures of pain and quality of life.
A study by Xiong et al., published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine in June 2012, also looked at how cannabinoids could potentially suppress nerve and inflammatory pain by targeting the a3 glycine receptors. The study concluded that cannabinoids could suppress both forms of pain by targeting the aforementioned receptors.
Meanwhile, a study by McDonough et al.published in The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology in October 2014, also looked at cannabinoids as a therapeutic avenue when treating orofacial neuropathic pain. According to the researchers, analgesia is one of the main therapeutic targets of the cannabinoid system. They also wrote that other studies had shown the efficacy of cannabinoid compounds in treating neuropathic pain.
One of the most recent studies into CBD and inflammation was undertaken by De Gregorio et al. and published in the International Association for the Study of Pain in January 2019. The team found that CBD helps manage pain and inflammation by regulating the absorption of chemicals involved in signaling pain perception.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Nerve Pain
Neuropathic pain can be a living nightmare for those unfortunate enough to suffer from it. Those who experience nerve pain daily desperately search for a remedy that is both safe and effective. Conventional medicine has not yielded options that fit into both categories. While opioids can mask the pain, they are highly addictive and can ultimately result in overdose and death.
If you live in constant pain, any escape from it is welcome, which is why so many people flock to opioids. However, marijuana could provide a safer solution. Contrary to what the Controlled Substances Act says, weed is nowhere near as addictive as opioids. You also have the option of exploring CBD, a non-intoxicating compound in cannabis and hemp. It has an excellent safety profile, and to date, researchers don’t see signs of addictive behavior amongst those who use it.
Perhaps one issue with CBD oil is that bioavailability is compromised when consumed orally. For better results, it may be worth investing in a vaporizer and using your CBD liquid that way. This method of consumption is several times more effective than oral use. Another option is to try a CBD topical on the affected area. Rub it into the skin and wait for the effects to take hold.
Further research is necessary and with hemp now legal to grow in America, perhaps we will finally learn much of what there is to know about CBD and its potential painkilling properties.