Cannabis is well-tolerated for neuropathic pain and other conditions that cause chronic pain.
While we don’t have specific studies on cannabis and sciatica, we do have sufficient evidence showing that cannabis can help reduce chronic pain.
Since cannabis helps with pain and more specifically neuropathic pain, this suggests cannabis may also help with the sharp and shooting pain that occurs in the lower back and radiates down the legs known as sciatica. In places where medicinal cannabis is available, chronic pain is always one of the approved conditions, as is neuropathy.
Research shows that the expression of cannabinoid receptors in the body are where the pain-relieving properties of cannabis come from. These receptors also appear to be how cannabis may help reduce neuropathic pain.
Medical studies on sciatica and cannabis
To answer the question of whether cannabis can help sciatica — which has yet to be studied — we can look to studies that examine the effects of cannabis-based medicines on neuropathic pain and chronic pain in general.
- The results from a 2015 review on 28 studies show that there is moderate-quality evidence supporting the use of cannabinoids for treating chronic pain.
- One 2007 meta-analysis examined cannabis-based treatments for neuropathic and multiple sclerosis-related pain. Cannabinoids, including Sativex (THC:CBD, 1:1 ratio), were shown to be superior to placebo in treating neuropathic pain. These results are relevant to the neuropathic pain present in sciatica, as multiple sclerosis often causes neuropathic pain.
- In a 2017 meta-review on cannabis literature, the National Academies of Science and Engineering reported that there is enough evidence to state that cannabis is effective for treating chronic pain in adults.
- One 2006 randomized double-blind trial looked at how Sativex affected 58 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and found that those administered the cannabis-based treatment experienced significant pain relief. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause back pain, and although it’s uncommon, rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes result in neuropathy.
- One 2016 study examined the benefits of cannabis for people with various types of treatment-resistant chronic pain. The results show that cannabis not only helps reduce pain but also significantly decreases the use of prescription opioid medications, which are sometimes used for pain caused by sciatica.
With plenty of clinical trials showing cannabis is effective for chronic pain and neuropathic pain, cannabis appears to have potential as a treatment for sciatica as it helps to reduce neuropathic pain in conditions like multiple sclerosis and chronic pain in other conditions. To be sure about cannabis’s efficacy for sciatica, specific studies are needed.
CBD and sciatica
While CBD alone has not been studied as much as THC alone or CBD and THC combined for neuropathy, some studies have shown that CBD helps with neuropathic pain in diabetes. We also have some evidence showing that CBD helps to reduce pain such as this 2018 review, and other studies showing CBD helps reduce pain and inflammation without causing a tolerance build-up.
Studies on sciatica and CBD haven’t been published yet so there’s no way to know for sure how effective CBD would be for this condition. With some evidence showing CBD helps reduce pain and inflammation — two key symptoms of sciatica — there may be potential for CBD to help. Future studies are needed.
How cannabis works on sciatica
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) exists in all vertebrates and helps regulate crucial functions such as sleep, pain, mood and appetite. The human body produces cannabinoids, which modulate and activate its various functions, but as its name suggests, the endocannabinoid system can also be modulated and activated by cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Because the entire system was only discovered in the past 30 years, scientists still have much to learn about the myriad ways cannabis affects the human body.
There is strong evidence the endocannabinoid system is involved with neuropathy, a nerve disorder that can cause neuropathic pain. Animal models have shown that dysfunction of the endocannabinoid system is associated with neuropathic pain.
Studies show that the expression of the endocannabinoid system in neurons and immune cells plays a crucial role in the development of neuropathic pain.These studies suggest a potential role of cannabinoid receptors in neuropathic pain. While scientists still have much to learn about the endocannabinoid system and how cannabis works, the endocannabinoid system does appear to play a role in neuropathic pain.
In theory, using cannabis will activate receptors in the endocannabinoid system and reduce neuropathic pain caused by sciatica in the lower back, hips, and legs.
Potential side effects of cannabis use
In studies on people with neuropathy, side effects are modest and usually resolve within a few hours.
Studies on cannabis use in chronic pain, particularly with neuropathic pain, show a significant proportion of pain-relieving effects is generally contingent on the amount of THC consumed.
With THC being the intoxicating cannabinoid in cannabis, higher doses of THC can cause side effects such as changes to mood and perception, increased appetite, drowsiness, and impairment at work and other daily activities.
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