Peripheral neuropathy is a chronic and complex condition that affects almost 20 million people in the U.S. Tell-tale symptoms of the condition are numbness, weakness and pain — particularly in extremities like your feet and hands. Recently, people have begun turning to medical marijuana for peripheral neuropathy to relieve their pain associated with the condition.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral Neuropathy occurs when you have nerve damage. Not only does it cause numbness, pain and weakness in your hands and feet, but it also affects other parts of your body as well. Many people with peripheral neuropathy typically describe the experience as burning, stabbing or tingling. Symptoms improve in many cases, particularly if a treatable condition, such as diabetes, causes it. Your peripheral nervous system sends information from your spinal cord to other areas of your body. A common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes mellitus, but the condition can result from other causes like infections and traumatic injuries.
To understand neuropathic pain, you need to take a look at your peripheral nerves. They are divided into several different classifications, with specific functions: sensory nerves that receive sensation from temperature, pain and touch; motor nerves that control muscle movement; and autonomic nerves, that control essential functions such as your blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and bladder function. Your entire peripheral nervous system sends information from your central nervous system, to the rest of your body. When your nerve fibers are damaged, dysfunctional or injured, they can send incorrect signals to other pain centers. Peripheral neuropathy can affect one nerve (mononeuropathy), two or more nerves in different areas (multiple mononeuropathy), or many nerves (polyneuropathy).
Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy typically begin with prickling, numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes. It can spread up to your hands or feet and cause freezing, burning, shooting or throbbing pain, which often worsens at night.
You may feel either periodic or constant pain, but generally, you feel the pain on both sides of your body equally in both feet and hands. Some types of peripheral neuropathy develop suddenly. Others come on gradually over many years.
Peripheral neuropathy symptoms often include:
- Freezing pain or burning sensation
- Feeling as though you’re wearing an invisible sock or glove
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Shooting, sharp, jabbing, burning, stabbing or electric-like pain
- Trouble sleeping due to leg and foot pain
- Muscle twitching or cramping
- Muscle weakness
- Unusual sweating
- Difficulty moving your arms or walking
- Abnormalities in pulse or blood pressure
- Being unable to feel your feet
- Inability to hold onto objects
The symptoms you experience depend on which of your peripheral nerves have damage. You have three peripheral nerve types: sensory, motor and autonomic.
In some neuropathy cases, all three nerve types are affected together, while others only affect one or two. Most patients with this condition suffer from polyneuropathy, which is where damage occurs to many nerves simultaneously.
How Cannabis Oil Helps Treat Neuropathy
Pain is complex and entirely subjective. It can’t be measured, it is difficult to describe and is unique to each individual. That is why there are a variety of treatment options. Typical neuropathy treatment looks at the underlying symptoms causing the nerve pain. In a 5-part series on the treatment of neuropathic pain, Dr. Rosemary Mazanet from The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, looks at the different treatment options available for people who suffer from this condition. Where conventional methods used to treat nerve pain range from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or stronger painkillers, such as morphine, Dr. Rachna Patel, known affectionately as the Medical Marijuana Expert, found that both THC and CBD play an important role in the reduction of neuropathic pain and the management of pain associated with nerve damage.
Since medical cannabis, cannabis oil high in CBD, is also used successfully in the treatment of diabetes, a major cause of neuropathic pain, the approach to treating with cannabis is often two-fold: treating both the cause and the symptoms with the same product. Most notably, cannabis has been shown to provide relief to patients that are unresponsive to other forms of treatment. This is primarily due to cannabis’ unique relationship with our internal endocannabinoid system.
Peripheral nerves that detect pain sensations contain cannabinoid receptors, and are therefore impacted by any form of cannabis consumption. When THC and CBD enter your body, they activate your CB1 and CB2 receptors, which regulate the neurotransmitter and central nervous system – helping to manage pain levels.
One study in 2010 showed inhaling a single 25 mg dose of 9.4 percent THC herbal marijuana three times a day, five days a week, helped reduce pain intensity, improve sleep and was tolerated well.
Another 2013 study showed when researchers compared medical weed with standard neuropathic pain medicine, the weed reduced pain effectively at small 1.29 percent doses and 3.53 percent medium doses.
Cannabis for peripheral neuropathy, despite low active cannabinoid concentrations, reduced chronic pain linked to peripheral neuropathy in participants of another study. It also eased their acute pain. The pain relief the medical cannabis provided during the study was equivalent to or even better than the pain relief other drugs like tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants and other medications evaluated for peripheral neuropathy provided.
Chronic pain from neuropathy can lasts for weeks or even years, and is persistent. It’s usually caused by nerve damage and may leave patients feeling hopeless.
This pain may get so overwhelming it eventually causes depression in patients. Patients often turn to strong prescription medications like Oxycodone and Vicodin just for the smallest bit of relief possible to get through the day.
For many years, these strong chemical medications were the only options patients had to treat their chronic pain and often led to dependence. However, cannabis is now becoming more widespread, and both patients and researchers are finding it just may be an excellent alternative to these harsh, potentially addictive medications.
Cannabis Oil and peripheral neuropathy treatment can help with peripheral neuropathy symptoms such as:
- Sharp, shooting, burning or stabbing pain
- Muscle twitching or cramping
- Sweating — cannabis has an anticholinergic effect, or drying, on the body
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping due to foot and leg pain
- Anxiety and depression
Researchers continue to look into the mechanism of how cannabis works in treating peripheral neuropathy symptoms. One theory is the natural endocannabinoid system of your body — also related to various functions like memory, pain, appetite and mood — runs parallel to the endorphin system in some respects, and the endorphin system plays an important and well-known role in pain management.
If you suffer from nerve pain, contact MCDSA for expert advise from one of our trained staff members.
Written by Lise Gatenby, June 2018
Disclaimer: Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary (MCDSA) aims to be a hub of information about medicinal cannabis, healthy living and the latest scientific research. Always consult your doctor before starting a new treatment.