Medical Marijuana to Manage Cancer-Related Neuropathy

Updated on December 17, 2018.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Medical Marijuana to Manage Cancer-Related Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs in about 10 to 20% of cancer patients. When a patient has peripheral neuropathy, their peripheral nervous system is damaged, making them feel numbness, tingling and other unusual sensations. We have pain and touch receptors to protect ourselves, so not being able to use them can put you in danger.

While we already have some remedies for neuropathy, we might be able to add medical marijuana to our treatment toolbox.

What Causes Neuropathy in Cancer Patients?

The most common cause of neuropathy for people dealing with cancer is chemotherapy. Chemotherapeutic agents like methotrexate, interferon, cytarabine, lenalidomide, thalidomide, bortezomib and vincristine can cause the patient to experience neuropathy. Radiation therapy can also trigger neuropathy if it’s used for several years.

Of course, some cancers can cause it, too. For instance, myeloma, a cancer that affects your bone marrow and blood cells, can also affect the peripheral nervous system.

More About Neuropathy Symptoms

We usually associate neuropathy with numbness and not feeling anything. But, it can make you feel all sorts of symptoms related to your nerves, such as:

  • Burning
  • Coldness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness

So, neuropathy can in fact cause a patient a lot of pain. Compounded with cancer’s innate pain, neuropathy can make life significantly harder for a patient.

That doesn’t mean numbness isn’t a serious problem, too. If you can’t feel your movements or what you hold, you’ll have a higher chance of trips, falls and dropping things. You can hurt yourself by getting in contact with a hot pan or bath without even realizing it.

How Can MMJ Treat Neuropathy?

The most common neuropathy symptom that doctors focus their treatment on is pain. They often prescribepain medications like:

  • Topical Anesthetics
  • Non-narcotic pain relievers, like ibuprofen
  • Narcotics

However, these medications can have problematic side effects. Non-narcotic pain relievers can harm the liver with excessive use, and narcotics create the potential for addiction. Topical anesthetics can’t reach every part of the body in pain.

However, for patients who react well to medical marijuana, the herbal remedy can relieve pain without any of those side effects. One of the most common uses for MMJ in legalized states is pain relief — and for good reason. Anecdotal and scientific evidence point to marijuana reducing pain.

When they reviewed scientific studies on medical marijuana for neuropathic pain, Boychuk, Goddard, Mauro and Orellana found promise in the humble leaf. According to the researchers, MMJ has the potential to treat neuropathic pain when other treatments don’t work.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be research out there that investigates medical cannabis’ effect on numbness and tingling related to neuropathy. We hope that with the increased legalization and decreased stigmatization of MMJ, scientists can conduct more research.

How to Medicate Neuropathy With Cannabis

The kind of ingestion method that will work best for you depends on your body chemistry, symptoms and personal preference. We can’t firmly recommend one way over another. But, we can give you an overview of what to consider when choosing your medicine.

Any strain of marijuana will help relieve pain, so match up the strain’s other benefits with your lifestyle or other symptoms. While indica strains and indica-dominant hybrids can calm you down and make you sleepy, sativa and sativa-dominant hybrids help to relieve mental health problems and energize you.

The way you consume marijuana affects how it affects you. The only method we don’t recommend is smoking, which causes you to inhale harmful chemicals.

Where to Begin Your MMJ Journey

Even if you live in a state where MMJ is legal, you need to pay close attention to its marijuana laws. While we strive to give you the most accurate information possible, we can’t replace the knowledge or recommendations of a doctor or dispensary staff member.

Information on Medical Marijuana & Cancer