Neuropathic pain is a difficult disease to try and define, and an even more difficult disease to try and treat. Most instances of neuropathic pain are caused from damage to a certain tissue area, or from damage to nerve cells as a result of some other underlying condition (most commonly diabetes, spinal stenosis, or injury to the brain or spinal cord).
While there are several well-known conventional/pharmaceutical medications that have shown to be quite efficient at treating neuropathic pain, they can be cost-prohibitive and in many instances, will result in severe and dangerous side effects.
In recent years, however, dozens of studies have popped up showing the potential role of cannabis in treating neuropathic pain and neuropathy. These studies have involved both animal models and human trials, in spite of the fact that cannabis is still regulated by the DEA as a Schedule I narcotic.
In this article, we look over a few of the most relevant studies on medical cannabis use for neuropathy, and also discuss the possibility of non-psychoactive CBD oil for pain, for those individuals who may be interested in trying medical marijuana but do not want any part of the associated high.
Neuropathic Pain: What Is It, and Who’s At Risk?
The body’s sensory system is a vast and complex network of nerve cells (neurons) that span out from the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to all areas of the body. We have nerves in our fingers and toes as well as our muscles and ear lobes, but all of these nerves end up at some point or another in the central nervous system, which acts as a “master control center” for pain response.
When this sensory system is damaged or otherwise inhibited (either through disease or injury), the nerves in the affected area cannot function properly to send pain signals to the brain. Often this results in a complete lack of sensation in the affected area (numbness), but in other instances it results in the complete opposite – severe and uncontrollable pain.
The latter, of course, is the definition of neuropathic pain; a chronic condition which leads to persistent symptoms of pain and discomfort. It is entirely different from nociceptive pain, which is the acute pain that we feel when we do something like stub a toe or get stung by a wasp.
As such, neuropathic pain does not start or end abruptly – many patients experience incessant pain sensations throughout the day, even though the intensity of may fluctuate from hour to hour or even from minute to minute.
What Causes Neuropathic Pain?
As we mentioned, there can be several underlying causes of neuropathic pain. On a cellular level, though, it’s believed that the pain sensation is caused by an increased release of neurotransmitters, in combination with a reduced ability for the nerve cells themselves to interpret signals from the affected area.
Also, in most instances of neuropathic pain it’s noted that the “pain receiving” machinery within the spinal cord is impaired to the point that a pain sensation will be felt, even when there is no external stimuli.
In terms of what actually causes this underlying “phantom sensation,” it’s known that stroke or trauma can produce an onset of neuropathic pain, as can conditions such as diabetes, excessive alcohol intake, cancer, vitamin B deficiency, localized infections, and other nerve-related disorders (like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease).
Conventional Treatment Options for Neuropathic Pain
As it stands, there are certainly no shortage of treatment options for individuals suffering from neuropathic pain. However, the majority of these medications are actually off-label, meaning that they were initially developed and approved by the FDA to treat some other condition (it was only later that they were discovered to be effective for neuropathy).
Some of the most common conventional meds include drugs like desipramine and nortriptyline, which belong to a class of tricyclic antidepressants, and other anti-depressants such as bupropion and venlafaxine.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) have also proven to be effective in the past, and these include meds like paroxetine and citalopram. Moreover, anti-seizure medications like carbamazepine and gabapentin have also been popular, as have heart arrhythmia drugs. However, neuropathy patients taking the latter medications have to be monitored very closely, as these have been known to produce very severe and dangerous side effects in the past.
As such, more and more people have been taking interest in CBD oil for neuropathic pain, as massive entities like the World Health Organization have gone so far as to claim that it is a “safe, well tolerated [substance], and not associated with any significant adverse public health effects.”
CBD for Neuropathic Pain: Is it a Viable Treatment Option?
If you’re wondering if CBD oil for neuropathic pain is a viable treatment option, then consider this fact: the U.S. government currently holds a patent on the non-psychoactive cannabinoid for its use as both a neuroprotectant and an antioxidant.
If you’re already thinking along the lines of “wouldn’t a neuroprotectant drug be helpful for nerve degeneration and neuropathic pain?” then you’re certainly on the right path.
Indeed, neuroprotective agents are compounds that have the potential to “protect the brain from damage or degeneration [brought on by] certain diseases.” And like we talked about earlier, it is common for many instances of neuropathic pain to be brought on by an underlying presence of some disorder or neurological condition such as MS or cirrhosis. And as you’ll see here below, there is plenty of scientific evidence and research publications that have shown as much under a laboratory setting.
Studies on CBD for Neuropathic Pain
In one study, for instance, published in October 2014, it was declared that “[current] treatment options for neuropathic pain have limited efficacy, and [are] fraught with dose-limiting adverse effects.”
The study reviewed several previous publications that documented the history, pharmacology, and clinical trials of “non-smoked, non-psychoactive cannabinoids in the management of neuropathic pain,” (i.e. CBD oils), and found that they displayed “…mounting evidence for therapeutic use in human neuropathic pain conditions.”
Another study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology in 2007 came to the definitive conclusion that cannabidiol (CBD) is an “orally effective therapeutic agent in rat chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain,” while yet another explored the effects of Sativex (a synthetic form of cannabis) and found that it had “clinical efficacy and tolerability in the treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain.”
These studies mimic the results of several earlier publications, some of which have directly eluded to the fact that cannabinoids can play a potential role in helping treat chronic neuropathic pain. Here are a few of the most important statements released over the past several years on the topic:
- “Cannabinoids [including cannabidiol] are effective in treating neuropathic pain in MS” (Current Medical Research and Opinion, 2007)
- “(This study) adds to a growing body of evidence that cannabis may be effective at [relieving] neuropathic pain, and may be an alternative for patients who do not respond to, or cannot tolerate, other drugs.” (Journal of Pain, June 2008)
- “Cannabis can produce moderate analgesia (pain relief) in patients with neuropathic pain. This analgesic effect may be more pronounced in central, as opposed to peripheral, neuropathic pain.” (McQuay, CMAJ: October 2010)
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Neuropathic Pain
As you can see, despite what a lot of anti-cannabis lobbyists might say there is no shortage of evidence showing that CBD for neuropathic pain could indeed be an efficient and reliable treatment option for the disorder.
In fact, since the U.S. government holds a patent on the cannabinoid for its medicinal role as a neuroprotectant, one might expect this very use to be one of the first applications of the compound if (or when) it ever becomes approved by the FDA.
For now, though, we’ll have to keep waiting for more advanced clinical trials to be completed, which will hopefully showcase beyond the shadow of a doubt that CBD for neuropathic pain has the ability to surpass even the most reliable and effective pharmaceutical medications.
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