About 1-in-25,000 people worldwide have peripheral neuropathy, according to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. In the US, an estimated 30 million people have the disease. But don’t worry Medical Marijuana has a cure to it too.
The condition is primarily characterized by intense, never-ending pain. Indeed, for individuals living with neuropathy, the pain can be so taxing that it impedes physical, social, and emotional health.
The worst part is that, to date, treatment options remain scarce, with the majority of neuropathy patients depending on barely-effective pain medications. Opioids, which are the most often prescribed medication, are not only addictive but also highly toxic. According to the CDC, there were 47,600 fatal opioid overdoses in the country in 2017.
Owing to the prevalence of the condition and the challenges in obtaining reliable treatment, medical researchers and patients have recently turned their attention to medical marijuana – a well-known natural analgesic. Unsurprisingly, the early signs are very promising! Here’s all you need to know.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is damage to sensory, motor, and automatic nerves. Also known as just neuropathy, it is characterized by stubborn pain, numbness, and weakness in one or multiple body parts. The feet and hands are the parts affected most often.
Neuropathic vs. nociceptive pain
- Nociceptive pain: What we feel when we’re injured or aching is known as nociceptive pain. It occurs when there’s actual tissue damage.
- Neuropathic pain: With neuropathic pain, the damaged nerve endings can periodically send false alarms to pain centers in the brain even when there’s no tissue damage.
Neuropathic patients describe the pain as burning, stabbing, or tingling. The symptoms, however, quickly ease if the underlying condition is treated.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy
In most cases, peripheral neuropathy is idiopathic, i.e., occurs without a known cause. The disease will just start from nowhere and spread over time.
Other times, however, neuropathy is caused by an underlying health condition, with diabetes and HIV/AIDS the two leading culprits. About 70% of diabetic patients have the disease. The prevalence among HIV/AIDS patients, meanwhile, is around 30%.
People with multiple sclerosis and those undergoing cancer treatments are also at a high risk of suffering from peripheral neuropathy.
Often, the first two signs of peripheral neuropathy are numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes that don’t go away. The sensation can spread (slowly or quickly) to the rest of the hands or feet, often culminating in burning, shooting, or throbbing pain in the affected area that worsens at night.
Other common symptoms include;
- Muscle twitching and cramping
- Difficulty moving the arms or walking
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Trouble sleeping due to the intense pain
- Being unable to feel your feet
- Muscle weakness in the affected areas
Use of Medical Marijuana in Neuropathic Pain Treatment
Recent clinical trials show that medical marijuana can help treat several symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Some of the well-established studies in this area so far include;
- 2008: The effect of smoking cannabis on central and neuropathic pain was studied. Results showed that cannabis was effective in 38% of the cases.
- 2010: A clinical study involving patients with post-surgical pain found that smoking 25mg of cannabis with 9.4% THC thrice a day reduces the intensity of pain and boosts sleep.
- 2015: A study finds that smoked cannabis (at 1%, 4%, and 7% THC) helps relieve the symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
- 2018: A Harvard-led review where 32 different studies were analyzed reveals that cannabis effectively reduces neuropathic pain and stiffness in patients with multiple sclerosis.
How Medical Marijuana Treats Peripheral Neuropathy?
To understand how cannabis helps with the treatment or peripheral neuropathy, you first need to know how the peripheral nervous system works.
Our peripheral nervous systems are made up of nerves that regularly communicate with the brain, spinal cord, tissues, and organs throughout the body. Each nerve comprises neurons or connecting cells, which, in turn, consists of dendrites, an axon, and a cell body.
Peripheral neuropathy damages these nerves. When a nerve is damaged, the altered gene activity within the nerve cell can cause hyperactivity (a process known as sensitization), resulting in ongoing receptor output where pain receptors remain active even after the original tissue damage has long healed. This explains why neuropathic pain never goes away.
Cannabinoids (found in medical cannabis) reduce neuropathic pain by modifying the cellular activities as follows;
- Increasing beta-endorphins (in a similar way to opioids)
- Inhibiting pain neurotransmission areas of the spinal cord
The result is usually minimized pain, reduced inflammation, and improved sleep. Patients also report improvements in anxiety and depression with medical marijuana.
How to Get Started?
If you or a loved one is currently struggling with peripheral neuropathy, you should know that medical marijuana can help. And, far from what most patients think, it’s easy to find the medical cannabis you need for your treatment. Contact MMJDoctor today, and we’ll help you get started.