Nerve pain is a condition that continues to mystify scientists. It affects people in many different ways, with no real rules as to how it might manifest itself in any given person.
Moreover, the 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 apparent underlying rationale. As it has proved to be a difficult condition to pinpoint, no treatment thus far has been 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. 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 a treatment option, and discuss the science behind it.
What Is Nerve Pain?
Pain is our body’s way of sending us a warning 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.
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 apparent reason. This type of nerve pain is also known as neuropathic pain.
Common Nerve Pain Symptoms
The symptoms of nerve pain can be different from patient to patient. 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 nighttime. 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. After a certain point, chronic pain can lead the body to become overly sensitive. This condition is known as hyperalgesia, where something as simple as the touch of a bedsheet can trigger pain.
As it most commonly affects the hands and feet, nerve pain can cause numbing and a loss of sensation. This can make simple tasks extremely difficult to do. People report that it feels like they are always wearing a pair of gloves and struggling with activities such as knitting, typing, tying shoelaces, and even walking.
Causes of Nerve Pain
With chronic pain, getting to sleep can often be a real struggle. Another serious side effect of nerve pain is that it can mask new pain, causing you to miss new injuries. For example, if the pain has caused foot numbness, one might not notice stepping on something sharp.
An incredibly wide range of conditions can cause nerve pain. Some of the most common causes include injury or trauma, cancer, shingles, and diabetes. Also, nerve pain can 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. It could be being caused by a serious underlying issue.
Nerve Pain Can Progress
When left untreated, nerve pain can be incredibly hard to bear. It can also worsen and spread. It often starts at the outer extremities, i.e., the hands or feet, and then progress up to the arms and torso.
With treatment, it can often be adequately controlled. What’s more, if one can successfully identify and treat the underlying cause, they may be able to halt the damage – or even reverse it.
What Are the Traditional Treatments for Nerve Pain?
When possible, treatment of the underlying problem causing the pain is the most critical action. For example, treating high blood sugar in diabetics, or relieving a pinched nerve.
Additionally, the doctor may prescribe medication 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.
Common Treatments for Nerve Pain
- Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs: Typically, OTC drugs are the first treatment recommended. This category includes 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. Also, topical treatments are only really effective for pain isolated in specific skin and joint areas.
- Prescription Drugs: Drugs initially 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 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 procedure.
- Alternative Therapies: These include treatments such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, or even aromatherapy, and have different levels of success. Some people find them to be effective, while others report no benefits at all.
- Surgery: As a last resort, surgical intervention may be an appropriate option to free a pinched nerve. An example of this is removing part of a bone to relieve sciatica.
CBD for Nerve Pain: How Does It Work?
The scientific explanation for using CBD as nerve pain treatment is pretty clear. Our bodies naturally make chemicals called endocannabinoids. These are involved in the whole-body system that controls various physiological processes. Such as appetite, immunity, inflammation, and pain sensation.
Endocannabinoids circulate via the bloodstream and cause their effects by binding to our cannabinoid receptors. Currently, there are two well-researched 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. These endocannabinoids are involved in modulating the pain pathway. 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 diminishing of the pain sensation.
What Is CBD?
CBD is one of the active ingredients in the cannabis plant family. The other main one is THC, which gives cannabis its psychoactive effects.
Although CBD is extracted from cannabis plants, the levels of THC usually vary from tiny amounts to virtually 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, hemp-derived CBD products do not have any intoxicating effects. In other words, they do not get you high.
Generally, the effects that people have experienced from CBD products are a calming in mood, relief from pain and anxiety, and an easier time getting to sleep for those that struggle with insomnia.
Cannabis and CBD for Nerve Pain: What Recent Studies Have Said
While FDA-approval and clinical trials are still lacking, the initial investigations into CBD for nerve pain 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. Participants in these studies are asked 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. This 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 patients use for neuropathic pain. Sativex was given to 63 patients, and their responses were compared with 62 patients given a placebo. The scientists found that more people who took Sativex described a decrease in pain intensity as compared to those who took a placebo.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Nerve Pain
Nerve pain can be a very unpleasant condition. And thus far, medical science has not been able to give us a suitable treatment.
Scientists themselves state that traditionally prescribed treatments have limited effectiveness, and those treatments often come with adverse side effects.
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. Also, the current research appears to support the notion that cannabinoids can successfully treat nerve pain.
If you are suffering from nerve pain and have not been having success with traditional treatments, cannabis and CBD oil could well be worth looking into.
Reviewed by Dr. Mosab R. M. Deen