Pain – in any form – can cause a lot of discomforts. But when it concerns your hands or legs, appendages a human being needs the most, it can make life really miserable.
When we talk about neuropathy or nerve damage, we usually talk about peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral nerves (outside the brain and spinal cord) comprise the peripheral nervous system. This system carries touch and pain sensations and enables motor and cognitive actions, between the body’s peripheral parts and the brain via the spinal cord.
When a nerve is damaged, these processes are disrupted and patients often experience a stabbing or searing pain, accompanied by a tingling sensation or numbness and painful cramps. They may also experience weakness of the affected parts that may extend to other parts of the body.
In the case of mild symptoms, doctors may prescribe pain-killers or anti-inflammatory drugs. If the pain or inflammation gets too severe, they may even advise you to take opioid analgesics, anti-seizure drugs, or antidepressants to overcome neuropathy.
Irrespective of their immense benefits to mankind so far, all these types of medications are only meant to reduce the symptoms, but not to fix the underlying problem. Besides, they all come with their respective set of side-effects that one can’t avoid.
With the legalization of hemp-derived Cannabidiol (CBD), however, a relatively safer alternative has opened up for patients looking to find relief from pain and inflammation, caused by neuropathy (nerve damage).
CBD’s Inner Workings: Can it Help Alleviate Neuropathic Pain?
Since legal CBD is extracted from hemp that has negligible Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; <0.3% by dry weight), it doesn’t give you a “high” generally associated with marijuana use. Neither does it have any intoxicating properties that would create a dependence. Unlike marijuana, which has high levels of THC, legal CBD is extracted from hemp.
CBD is a well-tolerated compound that can be used as tinctures (placed under the tongue), edibles (mixed in cold drinks or foods), e-liquids, encapsulated soft gels to be consumed as any other capsule, or mixed in topical products, like creams and balms, for local pain and inflammation relief.
Although research on CBD is still in its nascent stage, the currently available studies project CBD as having a wide range of therapeutic benefits that includes relief from peripheral neuropathy.
CBD and THC are phyto(plant-derived) cannabinoids that have similar effects on the human body as endocannabinoids. They interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), even though the ways they do are quite unlike that of the endocannabinoids.
The ECS, which is found in all vertebrates, works in tandem with the nervous system to maintains the balance within the body and among all its systems. It interacts with the neurotransmitters and receptors, along with a range of enzymes and fatty acids, to keep the body functioning normally. The endocannabinoids help regulate this system.
When this balance goes askew, owing to endocannabinoid deficiencies or malfunctioning, exogenous cannabinoids, like those derived from cannabis, can make up for it and help induce the ECS to return to normalcy.
Modern lifestyle can often lead to chronic illnesses, like depression, chronic pain, neurodegenerative diseases, etc. These are mostly caused by endocannabinoid-balance inside your body going haywire.
Once inside the body, CBD interacts with both ECS and non-ECS receptors, and a wide range of different kinds of enzymes and fatty acids, to carry out different kinds of functions.
Since CBD doesn’t directly bind with any of the primary ECS receptors – CB1 and CB2 – it does not have any psychoactive effects on the mind. Instead, it promotes better functioning of our endocannabinoids in different ways, like inhibiting enzymes that break them down and inducing others that release more of the endocannabinoids. It also activates several other pathways and receptors to restore the chemical balance within the body.
In these ways, CBD can help relieve many symptoms, like chronic pain, inflammation, disruptions in sleep patterns, anxiety, neurodegenerative conditions, etc. It is sometimes also used in cancer pain treatment and child epilepsy.
In June 2018, the US Food & Drugs Administration approved the use of a cannabis-derived drug for the first time. This was also the first FDA-approved drug for the treatment of Dravet Syndrome patients. FDA approved an oral cannabidiol solution, Epidiolex®, for treating seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy – Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet Syndromes – in patients two years and older.
While these consolidate the overall effects of CBD, including chronic pain and neurodegenerative pain, let’s discuss CBD’s effects on nerve pain in little more detail.
CBD & Neuropathy: What The Science Reveals!
We’ve earlier mentioned of CBD’s role in pain and inflammation relief, thus acting as an analgesic. Numerous studies have indicated CBD’s efficacy in providing relief from pain and inflammation, specifically arising out of nerve damage or injury. Here are a few such studies, reviews, and trials:
- In a 2020 study, published in the Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, researchers tested the efficacy of topical CBD on 29 peripheral neuropathy patients, with affected lower extremities. It was found that the transdermal application of CBD oil can achieve significant improvement in pain and other disturbing sensations in patients with peripheral neuropathy. The treatment was well tolerated and the study indicated that it may provide a more effective alternative compared to other current therapies in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy.
- A 2018 study, published in Cellular Immunology, indicated that spinal cord injury in mice can be healed by cannabidiol. CBD did not affect the recovery of locomotor or bladder functions, following the injury. CBD treatment attenuated the development of thermal sensitivity following spinal cord injury and this effect may be related to protection against pathological T-cell invasion.
- A 2017 study, published in the journal Pain, indicated for the first time that CBD administration can inhibit pain and peripheral nerve damage in osteoarthritic rats. Topical CBD use may be a safe therapeutic method to address pain caused by osteoarthritis as well as block the acute inflammatory flare-ups that drive disease progression and joint neuropathy.
- What’s great about CBD is that it can help reduce neuropathic pain and inflammation, without interfering with the current treatments and normal functioning of the body. A 2017 study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, indicated that CBD can help manage chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain. The researchers found that CBD protects against chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity, without interfering with the treatment. CBD treatment was also devoid of conditioned rewarding effects or cognitive impairment and did not attenuate chemo-induced inhibition of breast cancer cell viability. The study also indicated the role of 5-HT1A receptors in CBD’s analgesic activity.
- Another 2012 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, reported that systemic and intrathecal (into the spinal fluid) administration of CBD significantly suppresses chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain, without causing apparent analgesic tolerance in rodents.
- A 2007 clinical trial on Sativex’s impact on neuropathic pain due to allodynia led researchers to conclude that it can have an outcome that is statistically significant in favor of the drug.
- In a 2010 study, published in Diabetes Care, researchers observed a significant improvement in pain scores in patients with depression and diabetic neuropathy after they took taking the medical cannabis product, Sativex, which contains equal parts of THC and CBD.
- A 2009 study, published in the Neurotherapeutics, researchers suggested CBD may be used for addressing pain in neuropathy patients.
These studies and trials clearly indicate a link between CBD and pain and inflammation, caused by peripheral neuropathy due to conditions, such as diabetes, chemotherapy, injury, sciatica, with minimal or no side effects.
Parting Thoughts on CBD For Neuropathy
Cannabidiol has been found to act quickly and suppress neuropathic pain, when ingested sublingually, inhaled, or applied transdermally. It doesn’t have as many or as severe side effects as pharmaceutical medications. It does not produce drug tolerance or dependence, and can usually be safely titrated to be taken with most other medications and treatments.
Scientific studies clinical trials have, generally, projected CBD in a good light, efficient in relieving pain and inflammation.
CBD’s action in curbing inflammation has a lot to do with its modulation of the immune system, responsible for the inflammatory response of the body. These symptoms are the immune system’s way of responding to injury, infection, or damaged tissue and nerves.
Although not all CBD users have found phenomenal improvement in their neuropathy symptoms after CBD use, most have experienced a significant change in their pain levels and improvement in their overall wellbeing, including better sleep patterns and reduced anxiety.