Plasma Exchange vs. Medicinal Cannabis to Treat Neuropathy

Updated on January 31, 2019.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Plasma Exchange vs. Medicinal Cannabis to Treat Neuropathy

Neuropathy is often challenging to treat. This disorder causes nerve damage, which results in sensations of pain, numbness or weakness. However, neuropathy, also called peripheral neuropathy, is a side effect of an underlying condition. To treat it, doctors must find the source, which can be difficult to do.

When a patient’s neuropathy is due to an autoimmune disorder, one treatment option is plasma exchange. Although this isn’t dangerous, it does present a few complications. Also, it’s not effective for the treatment of all patients. This means patients are left to struggle with their neuropathy, which can be incredibly painful and hard to manage.

Medical marijuana is an alternative treatment many patients are pursuing to help control their neuropathy. Although cannabis isn’t a cure in and of itself, it allows patients to keep painful symptoms at bay so they can live fuller, more productive lives. Plus, patients can use marijuana safely in conjunction with other treatments, like plasma exchange.

Neuropathy Caused by Autoimmune Disorders

Although there are many potential sources of neuropathy, it’s sometimes caused by an autoimmune disorder. These conditions develop when the body’s antibodies, which are supposed to protect us from disease and foreign bodies, turn on us. The antibodies begin seeking and destroying bodily cells with essential functions.

As antibodies attack healthy cells, severe inflammation is a common side effect. Nerves can be found in the inflamed tissue, which can lead to damage to the nerve fibers. This can cause peripheral neuropathy to develop.

Examples of autoimmune disorders that can lead to neuropathy include:

  • Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • And more

Plasma Exchange Treatments

Plasma exchange, also called plasmapheresis, is sometimes used to treat neuropathy. Plasma, the liquid portion of blood, is removed via a catheter connected to a machine and replaced with good plasma or a plasma alternative, like saline or albumin.

Plasma exchange allows doctors to cleanse the blood of the harmful antibodies that attack the immune system. This process is relatively safe, but there are some potential risks patients should be aware of:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Blurred vision
  • Tingling or cold sensation in the limbs
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Seizures

Another issue with plasma exchange is the frequency a patient needs to have the procedure done and the amount of time it takes. Each session lasts approximately 90 minutes, and for more severe conditions, five sessions a week are recommended. This is a huge time commitment, especially since the treatment isn’t 100% effective for every patient.

Another drawback is that plasma exchange is not right for everyone. It’s not recommended for those with:

  • Severe allergies
  • Unstable blood flow
  • Calcium deficiencies
  • Adverse reactions to central line placement

Treating Neuropathy With Medical Marijuana

Because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug in the United States, it has a reputation as a dangerous narcotic. However, the medical efficacy of cannabis has been proven over and over again. This is especially true as a treatment for all sorts of pain, including nerve pain. Plus, compared to other kinds of pain medications, it’s both safe and effective.

Neuropathy causes nerve pain, something that can severely impair a patient’s everyday life. Although plasma exchange has potential as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy, it takes time for patients to feel the effects. For this reason, many patients are prescribed opioids to help them manage the pain.

Marijuana can effectively work in conjunction with other treatment therapies, such as plasma exchange, and is safer than prescription opioids. However, even as a stand-alone treatment, it targets many of the symptoms neuropathy patients struggle with, including:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Insomnia
  • Mental distress, like anxiety or depression

Speak to a Medical Marijuana Professional

At, we present this information as a resource to our valued readers. However, our advice shouldn’t replace that of a professional who can evaluate your individual circumstances and offer specific guidance. Be sure to reach out to a medical marijuana doctor near you or a dispensary staff in your city for more information.

Information About Medical Marijuana & Neuropathy