What is Neuropathic Pain?
Neuropathic pain can feel like a shooting or burning pain. It often goes away on its own but can also be chronic, or never go away. Neuropathic pain can be very severe and continuous, but it can also be sporadic.
It is usually the result of nerve damage or a nervous system that is malfunctioning. Neuropathic pain can lead to a change in nerve function both at the site of the injury and at the surrounding areas.
Non-neuropathic pain, also known as nociceptive pain, is due to injury or illness. For example, if you were to stub your toe, your nervous system will send pain signals to your brain as soon as this happens. There is a reason why you are feeling pain. In neuropathic pain, your brain feels pain for no apparent reason. The nervous system is misfiring pain signals.
Neuropathic pain has a prevalence of around 5.2% for individuals visiting their doctors for chronic pain (1). This prevalence increases with age, with those aged 75+ more likely to be in pain (8.4%). Female patients were also much more likely to report neuropathic pain, with around 43% doing so in an Australian study published in 2016.
“Phantom limb syndrome” is a relatively common example of neuropathic pain. This condition can only occur when an arm or a leg has been amputated. The patient will then feel pain from the leg that isn’t there. This happens because the nerves that carry impulses from the missing limb are now misfiring. Even though there is nothing wrong with the arm or leg (because it’s not there), the nerves in the peripheral nervous system believe that there is something wrong. This causes the sensation of pain. Phantom limb syndrome occurs in around 80-100% of amputees, and is usually chronic and resistant to treatment.
What are the symptoms of Neuropathic Pain?
The symptoms of neuropathic pain include:
- Shooting and burning pain
- Tingling and numbness
Neuropathic pain usually has no obvious cause and is usually due to a combination of factors. These may include:
- Amputation or spine surgery
- Nerve or spinal damage
- Diabetes or other thyroid conditions
- STIs such as HIV infection, AIDS and syphilis
- Multiple sclerosis
Medicinal CBD for Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain often responds poorly to standard pain treatments, such as pain medications. This is why some medical practitioners believe that medicinal CBD may be a good treatment for neuropathic pain.
A study published in 2014 looked at 303 patients with peripheral neuropathic pain (2). This type of neuropathic pain is a pain in the peripheral nervous system, which is any part of the body that is not the spine or head. Half the patients were given a THC/CBD spray and the other half a placebo (fake spray). The researchers found that 30% of patients who took the THC/CBD spray had reduced pain.
Another study found that chronic pain was reduced in 53% of patients who added CBD extract to their diets (3). These patients also reduced and even eliminated their intake of opioids as they found CBD to be a more effective and healthy method of reducing pain. 94% also reported that their quality of life was improved after taking CBD extract.
Researchers also found that sleep quality improved in patients who took the THC/CBD spray for their neuropathic pain (2). It can be difficult for most individuals to sleep when in pain, so many people with neuropathic pain have poor sleep quality. Poor sleep can often have negative effects on many areas of the body, including reduced functioning of the immune system, memory issues, mood changes and an increased risk of heart disease.
Could CBD cure Neuropathic Pain?
Findings from the above research demonstrate that many patients with treatment-resistant neuropathic pain have found CBD to be a useful treatment. It was shown to improve their overall pain levels and sleep quality.
There has been no evidence of any medication curing neuropathic pain at current, as it is usually chronic. Most medications can only help to manage the pain. Due to this, there have not been many studies on curing neuropathic pain with CBD, but it has been found that CBD does help with reducing pain.