Medical Cannabis, CBD, and Nerve Pain Relief: What You Need to Know

Discussing the SCIENCE...


Nerve pain is a condition that continues to mystify scientists. It affects people in a number of different ways, with no real rules as to how it might manifest itself in any given person.

Moreover, sensation of pain can feel completely different from one sufferer to another; it can affect different parts of the body or may develop randomly with no obvious underlying rationale. As it has proved to be a difficult condition to pin-point, no treatment thus far has deemed suitable for all nerve pain.

By no means does this mean nerve pain cannot be targeted. One option that is becoming increasingly popular is the use of hemp-derived cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil.

CBD is one of the main active ingredients in the cannabis plant, along with THC. However, it does not have any psychoactive effects. For centuries, people have used cannabis plants to medicate their pain, and now science is backing this up. 

Patients have reported great success in relieving their nerve pain when using CBD-based treatments, and some research suggests it could potentially be the future in terms of chronic nerve pain treatment.

We will take an in-depth look at nerve pain, providing an overview of the symptoms, potential causes, and traditional treatment regimens. Next, we will look at how CBD oil works as both a prevention and treatment option, and discuss the science behind it.

What Is Nerve Pain?

Pain is our body’s way of sending us a warning that we are doing something bad, or that something has gone wrong. For example, put your hand too close to the stove and the pain will cause you to pull it away before you do serious damage. 

Our nerves relay these signals to our brain, creating the feeling of pain. Unfortunately, in the case of damaged nerves, this warning system can go haywire, receiving “pain warnings” for no obvious reason. This type of nerve pain is also known as neuropathic pain.

Common Symptoms

The symptoms of nerve pain can be different from patient to patient. The most common complaint is chronic pain, but the actual feeling reported varies. 

Some of the most common descriptions reported are stabbing, burning, tingling or prickling. You may experience it all or most of the time, or it may only affect you during certain spells, most commonly at night time.

Nerve pain may affect any area, with the hands and feet being the most common. Often, sufferers can find no obvious cause of the pain and will wait weeks or months before finally seeking evaluation. 

In some cases, it may be triggered by certain body positions or activities, such as waiting in line for an extended period of time. It can make your body overly sensitive, known as “hyperalgesia” and something as simple as a bedsheet being draped over you can trigger pain.

As it most commonly affects the hands and feet, nerve pain can cause numbing and a loss of sensation, which can make simple tasks extremely difficult to do. People report that it feels like they are constantly wearing a pair of gloves and struggling with activities such as knitting, typing, tying shoelaces and even walking.

Causes of Nerve Pain

With the possibility of hyperalgesia causing extreme sensitivity to touch, getting to sleep can be a real struggle as well. Another serious side effect of nerve pain is that it can mask new pain, causing you to miss tell-tale signs of pain. For example, if the pain you feel has numbed your foot, you might not notice stepping on something sharp.

Nerve pain can be caused by an incredibly wide range of conditions. Some of the most common causes include injury/trauma, cancer, shingles and diabetes. On top of this, however, nerve pain could arise from anything from kidney disease to toxin exposure, as well as from inherited genetic diseases or even infections like HIV.

There are also cases where people suffer for no known reason at all. If you do suffer from nerve pain, it is crucial that you seek medical attention, as it could be caused by a serious underlying issue.

Nerve Pain Can Progress

Left untreated, nerve pain can be incredibly hard to bear. It can also worsen and spread, often starting at your outer extremities, such as your hands or feet, and then progressing up to your arms and torso. 

With treatment, it can often be adequately controlled. What’s more, if you can successfully identify and treat the underlying cause, you may be able to halt the damage – or even reverse it.

Traditional (Non-Cannabis or CBD) Treatments for Nerve Pain

When it is possible, treatment of the underlying problem causing the pain is the most important action. For example, treating high blood sugars in diabetics, or relieving a pinched nerve. 

Additionally, you would also be prescribed an agent to target the pain, ranging from anti-inflammatories to opiates. As no catch-all treatment has been approved for nerve pain, the treatment regimen prescribed depends on the nature and type of pain. 

Unfortunately, research suggests that traditionally based nerve treatments are limited in efficacy. Moreover,  traditional treatment usage is troubled with dosage-dependent adverse side effects.

Some of the most common treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs: Typically the first treatment recommended, these treatments would include common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, or topical treatments like gels, patches and creams. There are issues with these, though, as OTC NSAIDs may not be strong enough for moderate to severe pain, and topical treatments are only really good for pain isolated at certain skin and joint areas.
  • Prescription drugs: Drugs originally designed for the treatment of other conditions have been found to be effective treatments for nerve pain. Some of the most commonly used would be antidepressants and anticonvulsants (originally used to treat epilepsy). These are often used in combination to enhance their benefits. Although helpful for some patients, they do not work for all types of nerve pain – for example, they seem to be ineffective for nerve pain caused by cancer chemotherapy or HIV. Another option is strong opioid painkillers. These would only be used for severe nerve pain, and they carry serious side effects such as addiction and risk of overdose.
  • Interventional Procedures: Electrical impulses can be employed to block nerve pain messages from reaching the brain. This can be quite complex, however, and often requires surgery or interventional procedures. A lot of people also do not like the idea of electrical stimulation, due to its negative portrayal in the media (such as in the ending of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
  • Alternative therapy: These include treatments such as acupuncture, massage, meditation or even aromatherapy, and have different levels of success. Some people find them fantastic, while others report no benefits at all.
  • Surgery: As a last resort, surgical intervention may deem an appropriate option to free a pinched nerve, such as removing part of a bone to relieve sciatica.

CBD for Nerve Pain: How Does It Work?

cbd oil for nerve pain

The scientific explanation for using CBD as nerve pain treatment is pretty clear; our bodies naturally make chemicals we call endocannabinoids, which are involved in the whole-body system that controls various physiological processes (including appetite, immunity, inflammation and crucially here, pain sensation).

Endocannabinoids circulate via the bloodstream and cause their effect by binding to our cannabinoid receptors. Currently, we know about two cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. The ones which are important with regard to nerve pain are our CB1 receptors. These are found in nerve endings and the brain, and have been linked to the origin of the pain sensation.

CBD works on the body by reducing the metabolic breakdown of endocannabinoids, which our bodies make naturally. By slowing this breakdown process, CBD indirectly increases the amount and activity of endocannabinoids at the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This, in turn, causes the pain sensation to alleviate, and sometimes even reverse.

What Is CBD?

In terms of what CBD is, it is one of the active ingredients in the cannabis plant family (the other main one being THC, the ingredient which gives cannabis its psychoactive effects).

Although CBD is extracted from cannabis plants, the levels of THC usually vary from tiny amounts to none at all in the highest quality CBD products. Often, CBD products are made from hemp, which is a member of the cannabis family that contains virtually zero THC.

Due to the extremely low levels of THC, CBD products do not have any psychoactive effects – in other words, they do not get you high (this also means they are legal in every state in America, as long as they have been sourced under the guidelines of the 2014 Farm Bill).

Generally, the effects that people have experienced from CBD products are a calming in mood, a relief from pain and anxiety, and an easier time getting to sleep for those that struggle with insomnia.

CBD for nerve pain: What recent studies have said

As the science behind its effectiveness is clear, so are the findings of research that has investigated the usage of CBD for nerve pain. While FDA-approval and clinical trials are still lacking (meaning no one can come right out and say it’s a potential treatment option) the initial investigations have been promising.

Here is a selection of a few of the most recent studies on CBD for nerve pain (see referenced sources below):

  • Several studies have been carried out that have looked at patients with neuropathic pain caused by HIV, asking them to smoke medical cannabis as a treatment. Ellis et al (2009) found that 34 patients who smoked cannabis reported a significant decrease in the intensity of their pain, as compared to the effects of placebo.
  • Abrams et al (2007) used a similar model of people who suffered from neuropathic pain due to HIV; the research team had 27 patients smoke cannabis, and compared them with 28 placebo patients. 52% of the cannabis group reported feeling a greater than 30% decrease in their pain, which was significantly more than the placebo group. They also reported no serious adverse side effects.
  • This last study looked at the effectiveness of Sativex, which is a prescription spray (containing both CBD and THC) that some people use for neuropathic pain. 

Sativex was given to 63 patients, and their responses were compared with 62 patients given placebo. The scientists found that more people who took Sativex described a decrease in pain intensity as compared to those who took placebo.

Final Thoughts on CBD for Nerve Pain

Nerve pain is a very unpleasant condition to live with. In severe cases, it can affect even the most basic tasks, such as walking or going to sleep. Thus far, medical science has not been able to give us a suitable treatment for all sufferers. 

Scientists themselves state that traditionally prescribed treatments have limited effectiveness and come with negative side effects stemming from their dosage amounts.

In the end, cannabis-based treatments seem to have a promising future in terms of their potential to treat nerve pain. The science behind how cannabinoids work to counteract nerve pain is clear, and current research seems to support the notion that cannabinoids can successfully treat nerve pain.

If you wish to use a cannabinoid-based product, a high-quality CBD oil is probably your best option, as it contains only trace amounts of THC which means it has no psychoactive effects and is legal in most instances. 

If you are suffering from nerve pain and have not been having success with traditional treatments, CBD oil could well be worth looking into.

Reviewed by Dr. Mosab R. M. Deen

Article Sources:
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