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Medical Marijuana For Neuropathic Pain

Updated on January 28, 2019.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist

marijuana for neuropathic pain
Chronic pain is a serious issue that impacts millions of adults around the world. Over 25 million men and women in the United States experience chronic pain daily, while an additional 15 million adults experience levels of severe pain often. Medical professionals define chronic pain as pain that persists for more than 12 weeks. Neuropathic pain is one category of chronic pain.

Though there are options available to manage neuropathic pain, the potentially damaging side effects of these treatments have encouraged many struggling with this condition to seek out alternative medicine. Thankfully, medical marijuana has shown potential as a useful treatment option for those experiencing symptoms associated with different forms of neuropathic pain.

What Is Neuropathic Pain?

Neuropathic pain is chronic and persistent pain attributable to dysfunctions of the peripheral or central nervous system. This type of chronic pain is different than nociceptive pain, another common condition, which manifests from physical injuries that the body has sustained. Nociceptive pain may be present due to a bone fracture, muscle tear or skin burn, whereas neuropathic pain could result from a condition such as diabetes.

If you’ve investigated your pain symptoms by researching scholarly articles online, reading medical literature or speaking with those who have similar symptoms, you may have become aware of other conditions that sound similar to neuropathic pain. The sensation of pain is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. The nervous system sends short-term, long-term and intermittent pain signals to alert the brain to an area of the body that needs attention. Unfortunately, sometimes the brain can misinterpret these pain signals.

Each person experiences pain uniquely, and because the causes of nerve pain can be so diverse, it’s important to understand your doctor may diagnose neuropathic pain as a different condition, depending on its origin. Imagine neuropathic pain as a broad spectrum that encompasses all types of chronic nerve pain. One person may experience neuropathic pain due to diabetes, while another may have developed neuropathic pain from an injury that damaged a set of nerves. Some of the various forms of neuropathic pain include:

  • Mononeuropathy — This term refers to pain from damage to a single nerve.
  • Polyneuropathy — This term refers to pain from damage to multiple nerves.
  • Peripheral neuropathy — Also known as peripheral diabetic neuropathy and distal polyneuropathy, this is the most common form of neuropathic pain resulting from diabetes. It often impacts the nerves in the feet, legs, arms, and hands.
  • Proximal neuropathy — This neuropathy condition specifically impacts the muscles and causes weakness in the hips, buttocks, and legs. For some, it can cause nerve pain that shoots from the lower back down through the leg.
  • Autonomic neuropathy — This type of neuropathic condition impacts the body’s automatic nerves, which control bodily functions like breathing, digestion, and heart pumping. Because this condition can affect many different sets of nerves, neuropathic pain may or may not be present.
  • Focal neuropathy — When someone has nerve pain attributed to mononeuropathy, it’s called focal neuropathy. People can experience this severe type of pain in the specific area of the body near the damaged nerve.

Though some sensations of pain are nociceptive, you should take any chronic or lasting pain seriously. Countless factors could cause neuropathic pain, and waiting to see if it will subside is not always a wise option. If you believe you may be experiencing neuropathic pain, you should visit your physician.

History of Neuropathic Pain

While physicians have studied the concept of neuropathic pain for over a century, nerve pain has persisted for thousands of years. Throughout history, observers have documented neuropathic pain conditions. For instance, there is documentation of common orofacial neuropathic pain in Greek writings from the first century C.E. During the Civil War era, complex regional pain syndrome was a common way to explain lasting pain that persisted, despite injuries healing. People thought phantom pain from the loss of a limb was imaginary until the 1940s.

what is neuropathic pain

We are still writing the history of neuropathic pain. Though the medical community now recognizes many sensations as a neuropathic pain condition, there is still a debate as to the extent of how to define neuropathic pain, and whether or not certain conditions meet the criteria for this term. As research continues, those in the medical field are seeking ways to both identify neuropathic pain conditions and find adequate treatment options for those afflicted.

Prevalence of Neuropathic Pain

If you or a loved one is suffering from neuropathic pain, you are not alone. Neuropathic pain is a condition many men and women face in their daily lives. As many as 65 percent of adults in the United States and potentially 22 percent of adults worldwide have the condition. Because the frequency, intensity, and duration of pain may vary from person to person, there may be more undiagnosed or misdiagnosed patients worldwide.

Causes of Neuropathic Pain

The causes of neuropathic pain are just as diverse as its many typologies. Unlike other disorders, neuropathic pain can manifest as a result of injury, infection, disease or even treatment.

causes of neuropathic pain

  • Infections: Researchers have discovered many types of bacterial infections in the body can cause nerve pain. There may be a correlation between the severity of the pain patients experience and the levels of bacteria present. Those with AIDS, HIV, syphilis or other sexually transmitted infections may feel unexplained nerve pain. Other infections that may cause neuropathic pain include shingles, urinary tract infections and even abscesses in the teeth.
  • Disease: Disease is a common cause of neuropathic pain, especially diabetes. Thirty percent of neuropathic pain cases can link to diabetes. Long-term and excessive amounts of alcohol intake can also lead to nerve pain. Other diseases like cancer, multiple myeloma, and multiple sclerosis may also cause neuropathic pain. Surprisingly, even treatments for diseases, such as chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, can negatively affect the body’s nerves and cause discomfort.
  • Accidents: Not all instances of neuropathic pain are due to diseases or infections. Virtually any injury the body sustains has the potential to cause varying levels of nerve pain. Of course, any trauma related to the back or spinal cord may impact the nerves. Herniated discs and spinal compression will likely cause neuropathic pain. Injuries to your muscles, tissues or joints could also cause nerve pain, which may persist even after the injury has healed.
  • Surgery: Though it is unlikely, neuropathic pain may result from surgeries such as amputation. Known as phantom limb syndrome, nerves near the site of the leg or arm amputation may misfire and send incorrect signals to the brain. These could occur in other areas of the body as well, such as in the fingers, toes or ears.

There are also other causes of neuropathic pain, such as vascular problems, hormonal imbalances, disorders of the liver or kidney or imbalances in vitamin or nutritional levels.

Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain

Though the causes of neuropathic pain are diverse, the symptoms are often similar for most individuals. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Burning, shooting or stabbing pain in the afflicted area
  • A tingling or numbness in the area, also commonly called “pins and needles”
  • Sensations of pain during activities, like brushing your hair or sitting down, or in cold environments in which it’s otherwise uncommon to feel pain
  • A continuous or persistent feeling of discomfort
  • Trouble sleeping or resting comfortably
  • Psychological problems resulting from the persistent pain or loss of comfort because of the pain

You should never ignore pain, especially if it’s interfering with your quality of life. If you believe you’re experiencing the symptoms of neuropathic pain, let Marijuana Doctors help you find a physician in your area who specializes in medical marijuana pain management.

Current Treatments for Neuropathic Pain and Their Side Effects

Neuropathic pain can be a debilitating condition that constantly disrupts a person’s life. Many physicians will attempt to treat or manage this pain through medication, therapy or recommending changes in the patient’s lifestyle. Depending on the severity of the pain, the doctor may first insist a patient try an over-the-counter pain medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, may provide some pain relief. However, they do not specifically target the afflicted areas and may not be a valid option for most patients.

Excessive use of NSAIDs may also damage the body. NSAID side effects include minimal discomfort like gas, dizziness or bloating. They could also cause severe side effects, like jaundice, bloody urine or severe stomach pain. These drugs also carry an increased risk of heart-related traumas like strokes or heart attacks for people who use them for too long. Women who are pregnant, as well as those over 60 who have high blood pressure or other health conditions, may also put themselves at risk by taking NSAIDs.

Doctors may alternatively prescribe other medications, such as opioids, antidepressants or anticonvulsants. Opioids may only reduce some cases of neuropathic pain and can be deadly if the patient becomes dependent on the substance. Antidepressants have been effective in treating both the pain itself and the psychological impacts of neuropathic pain. However, these drugs also may present the patient with serious side effects. Though anticonvulsants and anti-seizure medications are effective, many researchers are still not entirely sure how exactly these drugs treat the pain.

treatments for neuropathic pain

Aside from medication in pill form, medical professionals may inject anesthetics or steroids into the afflicted area to block the nerves. This temporary solution may not give those suffering from chronic neuropathic pain the long-term relief they seek. If these treatment options are not effective, surgery is also an option. Surgeons can implant small devices into the spine or brain to help block abnormal or incorrect nerve signals from being sent. All surgeries carry risks, and some may contribute to further neuropathic pain.

Lifestyle changes and therapies like diet, exercise, massages, and others may put less stress on the body, but these treatments may not be effective in all cases. It’s common for many patients to require one or more treatment methods to find relief.

How and Why Medical Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Neuropathic Pain

Researchers agree neuropathic pain is a complex condition, and that finding effective and safe treatment options for those suffering is difficult. Medical marijuana may offer men and women afflicted with this condition a safe, effective and easy way to find pain relief. Cultures around the world have used cannabis throughout history as a useful treatment option for many situations, including pain management. Many states across the country are legalizing medical marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

Current scientific research, though limited, has shown not only is medical cannabis safe, but it may also be effective as the current neuropathic agents. Although more research is necessary to determine if any long-term side effects negatively impact those with neuropathic pain, there is overwhelming evidence medical cannabis may be a universal medicine that has the potential to treat a myriad of health conditions, including chronic pain symptoms.

What Side Effects and Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain Can Medical Cannabis Treat?

medical cannabis treatments

Medical marijuana may be able to treat neuropathic pain on both physical and psychological levels. It may help relieve symptoms including:

Best Strains of Medical Marijuana to Use for Neuropathic Pain Symptoms and Side Effects

The spectrum of neuropathic pain is vast, and each case may require treatment options that are unique to that individual. Here are a few strains of medical marijuana that may effectively treat neuropathic pain attributed to various conditions.

Best Strains for Neuropathy

  • White Widow
  • Purple Kush
  • Jack Herer
  • Super Silver Haze
  • Chem Dawg

Best Strains for Inflammation

  • Harlequin
  • Granddaddy Purple
  • Critical Mass
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • ACDC
  • Cannatonic

Best Strains for Peripheral Neuropathy

  • Afghan Kush
  • Green Crack
  • Remedy
  • Jack Flash

Best Strains for Anxiety

  • Northern Lights
  • Chocolate Chunk
  • Amnesia Haze
  • Girl Scout Cookies

Best Strains for Insomnia

  • Big Bud
  • Ogre
  • Blackberry Hashplant
  • Skywalker
  • God’s Gift
  • 9 Pound Hammer

Best Strains for Muscle Spasms

  • Head Cheese
  • Snoop Dogg
  • The Hog
  • Green Candy

Not all strains of medical marijuana will be useful for each patient’s condition. To learn more about which ones may be the best treatment option for your unique neuropathic pain, let Marijuana Doctors put you in touch with a local medical cannabis dispensary budtender.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for Neuropathic Pain

Though a variety of health conditions do have viable forms of treatment, in many cases, there is only a single delivery method. For instance, patients must ingest pills, while some steroids are only available via injections or topical applications. One of the most significant benefits of medicinal cannabis is that patients can choose from a variety of treatment methods. Perhaps more importantly, the patient can choose which way they believe will best cater to their symptoms, unique lifestyle and personal limitations.

There are many methods for using cannabis as a treatment for your neuropathic pain.

  • Smoking: Perhaps the most commonly known way to use cannabis, smoking is ideal for those who want to feel the medicinal effects of marijuana quickly.
  • Edibles: This tasty form of cannabis delivery is an effective way of ingesting marijuana for those who are unable to smoke or who want to experience a delayed and slightly more concentrated effect.
  • Topicals: Available in the form of lotions, sprays, ointments, and salves, topical cannabis keeps the effects localized to a particular area.
  • Vaporizing: While this method does involve inhalation, the cannabis gets heated to a much lower temperature to make it easier on the lungs.
  • Tinctures: Users can squirt or spray these into the mouth, making it an easy option for those who cannot smoke but do not want to ingest edibles.
  • Suppositories: This fast and effective way of experiencing the effects of cannabis is an option for those who wish to bypass their lungs and most of their digestive system.
  • Dabbing: This method almost instantaneously delivers concentrated doses of medicinal marijuana to the brain by inhaling in a much safer method than smoking.
  • Transdermal patches: Unlike topicals, transdermal patches deliver doses of cannabis over long periods, and are ideal for those who need consistent treatments but cannot administer other methods of cannabis delivery due to lifestyle or health limitations.
  • Eating raw cannabis: Patients can also ingest raw marijuana leaves or mix it into smoothies or juices for a convenient way to feel the effects of cannabis.
  • Infused beverages: Those looking for a slower-acting yet long-lasting cannabis effect may choose to drink beverages like tea, wine or soda infused with cannabis.
  • Pills/supplements: For patients who seek a more traditional form of medication, cannabis supplements also come in pill form, allowing patients to take these medicines discreetly.

Each method of cannabis delivery can be effective. However, certain ways may work better for some individuals. Before trying cannabis in any form, Marijuana Doctors suggests you first speak with your physician or a marijuana dispensary associate. These individuals will advise you on the method of marijuana delivery that may work best for your unique needs.

Side Effects of Medical Marijuana for Neuropathic Pain

Nearly every form of medication carries a risk of adverse side effects. However, some of these medications may pose more severe side effects than others. No matter which medication you choose to treat your neuropathic pain, you should always be aware of the potentially harmful effects. Understandably, most patients suffering from neuropathic pain seek out medications that offer the most relief with the lowest chances of experiencing adverse effects. Because of this, medical marijuana is quickly becoming a treatment option many patients are considering.

Though many individuals who use medical cannabis do not experience any negative side effects, others may react in unique ways. Because the side effects of pot use are not universal, a patient may experience one or more of the following symptoms at varying levels of severity:

  • Anxiety, uneasiness or paranoia
  • Thirst, hunger or dry mouth
  • Insomnia, red eyes or short-term memory loss
  • Respiratory issues heightened sensory perception or giddiness
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Tolerance, dependency, slower reaction time or impaired balance
  • Increased heart rate, constipation, urinary retention or hallucinations
  • Fainting, dizziness or slurred speech

If you’re concerned about the potential risk factors involved with using medical marijuana for neuropathic pain, speak with your physician, a cannabis doctor or a marijuana dispensary budtender.

Taking the Next Step in Obtaining Medical Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain Treatment

neuropathic pain relief

Using cannabis to treat physical health issues is not a new phenomenon. The cannabis plant has proven its usefulness in the treatment of a variety of negative health conditions including neuropathic pain. Although some methods of treatment such as prescription drugs can cause an individual to experience debilitating side effects that negatively impact their quality of life, medicinal weed is a useful intervention option that involves limited to no complications or adverse effects.

The cannabis experts at Marijuana Doctors are ready to help you discover how medical marijuana may be an effective way to treat your neuropathic pain. As an affordable and natural alternative to prescription medication, medicinal cannabis has the potential to help patients treat, manage and live comfortably with their neuropathic pain. If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of neuropathic pain, we’ll help you make an appointment with a qualified physician in your area and take steps to improve your quality of life.

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Resources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29388063
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/neuropathic-pain#causes
  4. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet
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