Neuropathy is a condition that affects over three million people a year in the United States alone. Also known as peripheral neuropathy, its symptoms include numbness, weakness, lack of coordination or frequent falls, extreme sensitivity to touch, muscle weakness or paralysis, and stabbing or burning pain in the hands and feet. All of these can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life, and finding an effective, side effect-free way to manage them can be a challenge. However, recent scientific studies have found that cannabis topicals might be well-suited for the job.
Neuropathy is a result of trauma to the peripheral nerves, which are located outside of the brain and spinal cord. These nerves connect the central nervous system (CNS) to our sensory organs. If one or more of them become damaged, peripheral neuropathy ensues.
Nerves can be damaged by various conditions including alcoholism and diabetes, cancer (and the chemotherapy used to treat it), vitamin B deficiency, autoimmune diseases, toxicity, drug interactions, and even occupational hazards such as strenuous physical exertion over a long period of time. When the peripheral nerves are damaged, they begin to send faulty signals to the brain.
Unlike nociceptive pain (the kind caused by pricking your finger or hitting your knee on the table), neuropathic pain does not start abruptly or dissipate quickly — nor is it as responsive to typical pain medications. It’s a chronic condition, and people diagnosed with it live in a constant state of pain. The severity can increase or decrease throughout the day, depending on various factors.
Pain is highly subjective, and it can’t be measured except through the experience of the person living with it. Each individual has a unique pain threshold and unique needs when it comes to treatment. While the existing options are limited, cannabis topicals have several characteristics that make them an attractive choice.
The pain and inflammation that come with neuropathy can interfere with daily life, and since cannabis topicals have the ability to reduce swelling and relieve pain, they make an ideal alternative treatment for these symptoms. They accomplish this by activating the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors found throughout the body, including in the peripheral nerves. Two main types of receptors are particularly important, known as CB1 and CB2.
Cannabis, whether in topical form or otherwise, contains compounds called cannabinoids that trigger these receptors. The two most common cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBD). THC primarily works with CB1 receptors (which induce psychoactive effects), while CBD works only with CB2 receptors (which do not). When these cannabinoids interact with their respective receptors, they can mitigate neuropathic pain by relaxing muscles, reducing the intensity of the pain, and providing anti-inflammatory relief.
Since cannabis research has been restricted for decades, few clinical studies have specifically examined the effects of topicals on neuropathy. However, a study published in the Journal of Pain showed that low doses of vaporized cannabis could significantly improve neuropathic pain, while researchers at the Center for Pain Medicine at the University of California-San Diego have found that oral mucosal delivery of cannabis is also effective at relieving symptoms.
Scientists have also found that the neuroprotective antioxidants found in cannabis could be comparable or superior to those found in conventional medications like gabapentin or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are currently some of the most commonly-prescribed treatments for painful sensory neuropathy.
This is highly encouraging news for anyone seeking an alternative treatment. Equally encouraging is the fact that using cannabis topicals is much easier than understanding how they work.
When treating neuropathic pain, some of the primary goals are easing mobility, reducing pain and inflammation, and improving sleep. Cannabis topicals are well-suited for this, especially because they can be applied without the help of a specialist, making it easy for anyone to use them in the comfort of their home.
Cannabis topicals can be applied in the morning and at night for all-day relief. Using them after bathing is also an excellent option, as the pores are wide open and ready to accept relief. They can be applied directly to the affected area and gently massaged into the skin. Make sure the skin is clean, dry, and free of other skin care products for maximum absorption. Many topical products will come with more detailed instructions for application, and it’s worth reading them carefully. It’s also a good idea to closely examine the list of ingredients, as the product’s quality makes all the difference — you’ll want one that’s all-natural and free of artificial chemicals.
Apart from the symptoms of neuropathy, cannabis topicals can also be used to treat the inevitable complications that arise as a result of the condition. For example, many people experience frequent falls due to decreased sensation in their limbs, leading to minor scrapes and injuries. These can become serious if they are not treated properly, leading to infection or other issues. Since cannabis topicals are antibacterial (and contain many compounds that nourish the skin), they’re an ideal option for managing these issues, especially if they’re specially designed for healing.
Don’t make the mistake of expecting miracles the first time — or every time. Cannabis topicals are incredible at relieving neuropathic symptoms, but if yours are not resolved with the first application, don’t give up. Try applying more, or try a different product. Finding what’s right for you could take some time, but it’s worth the effort. Making healthy choices and being curious about cannabis plant medicine is a great start on your journey to pain-free living.