How Can Cannabis Help Neuropathic and Central Pain?

neuropathic pain elderly man and male nurse

Cannabis has helped a multitude of patients relieve their acute and chronic pain symptoms. Whether you're suffering from a consistent migraine or chemotherapy-related pain, cannabis has been shown to reduce pain sensitivity. In some cases, cannabis has even been able to provide relief for treatment-resistant pain.

Cannabis has been especially helpful for patients suffering from one of the most difficult types of pain to treat, neuropathic pain. One Google search for "marijuana neuropathic pain" will turn up study after study about the many benefits that marijuana can have on people suffering from this specific type of pain. More specifically, research has shown that cannabinoids in the marijuana plant can provide temporary and sustainable relief for all forms of neuropathic pain, including central pain conditions.

What is Neuropathic and Central Pain?

Neuropathic pain occurs when there is damage to the peripheral and central nervous system. When these nerves are damaged, the wrong signals get sent to our brain causing excruciating pain. Neuropathic pain can be genetic, but can also be caused by injury, virus, tumors, vasculitis, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, nerve disorders, and overuse of muscles. Symptoms of neuropathic pain include, but are not limited to the following sensations:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Prickling
  • Burning
  • Shocking
  • Stabbing
  • Aching

Central pain is a type of neuropathic pain associated with damage to the brainstem, brain, and spinal cord. Central pain symptoms are common after a stroke and spinal cord injury. Other conditions like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome can develop into central pain. These injured pain nerves can overwhelm our brain's pain center, the thalamus, leading to unrelenting pain that is sensitive to stimuli. Symptoms can include excruciating pain and loss of feeling in the face, arms, and legs. In particular, cold temperatures increase the pain sensitivity.

Treatment for neuropathic and central pain begins by detecting the underlying cause. Pain treatment can include over-the-counter drugs, opioids, and nerve-block injections for temporary pain relief. In some cases, antidepressants and anticonvulsants may be prescribed. Fortunately, studies have shown that medical cannabis can improve a wide array of symptoms associated with neuropathic and central pain. A marijuana neuropathic pain treatment can reduce pain and inflammation, while protecting and restoring these nerves.

How Can Cannabis Help Neuropathic and Central Pain?

In cases where neuropathic pain hasn't responded to traditional medication, cannabis has helped tremendously. Cannabinoids in the cannabis plant interact with our body's endocannabinoid system that regulates the brain, digestion, immune and nervous system. Cannabinoids can act on cannabinoid receptors in the affected areas to reduce discomfort. One study in 2010 found that patients with neuropathic pain showed improvement after smoking 25mg of 9.4 percent THC flower three times a day for five days. 25mg is the equivalent of a small bowl or joint. The lowered pain sensitivity contributed to patient's having a better night sleep.

A randomized, controlled study in 2005 found that a low dose of THC and CBD cannabis spray could reduce pain and sleep disturbances for patients with multiple sclerosis-related central pain. Another study in 2011 compared the effects of smoking one to eight percent THC flower against a placebo for HIV patients. Almost half of the patients who were treated for HIV-associated pain found "clinically meaningful pain relief along with improved mood and quality of life. In another study published in the Journal of Pain, researchers discovered that low doses of THC (1.29 percent) provided just as much pain relief as moderate doses (3.53 percent THC).

For injury-related neuropathic and central pain, medical cannabis has also afforded patients with hope. A study in 2004 tested the effects of a cannabis-based extract (Sativex) on patients with a brachial plexus injury, a group of nerves that connect the spinal cord to the shoulder, arms, and hands. This extract contained an equal 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD. Patients continued their existing medications and exhibited a "modest drop in pain scores" when they used the cannabis-based spray. Finally, a survey in 2009 interviewed fibromyalgia patients with central neuropathic pain who treated their pain with cannabis. The survey found that patients that administered a marijuana neuropathic pain treatment (an average daily dose of 7.5 mg of THC) saw a noticeable reduction in pain.

An Alternative to Traditional Treatment

Cannabis treatment provides an alternative to people who want to reduce their use of opiates, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants to treat their pain. While medical cannabis isn't free from side effects, it doesn't have the dangerous risk of dependence and overdose compared to opioids. Pain sufferers that are searching for pain relief without the high can turn to CBD-rich products. CBD can be derived from hemp, which is legal across the United States. CBD tinctures and spray enable patients to discreetly and effectively medicate throughout the day.

Whether you smoke or vaporize medical marijuana, you'll still experience improvements in pain reduction and quality of life. Capsules and edibles provide medicinal relief for longer compared with smoking or vaping. These consumption methods can provide a disturbance-free sleep for people who wake up at night from the pain. Cannabis-infused topicals can be a practical option for those looking to treat specific areas. No matter what marijuana neuropathic pain product you choose, ensure you know what dosage you're taking and that it is tested for contaminants.