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Neuropathy is one of the more common types of chronic pain, especially among older people. Studies have shown that nerve pain affects around one in 10 people over 40 and more than one in four people over 70. So as marijuana becomes available to more Americans, neuropathy is naturally one of the top reasons to try it out.
If you’re starting to shop for products to help your neuropathy or pain and discomfort, though, you’ll find a dizzying number of different types of cannabis strains with colorful names to choose from.
Well, the good news is that while connoisseurs prefer different strains for flavor, the quality of the “high” and other factors, when it comes to issues like neuropathic pain, you can break down strains by few basic components to see what works best for you.
- Neuropathy is a complex condition with many possible symptoms.
- The THC, CBD, and terpenes in cannabis can all help manage neuropathy symptoms.
- The best strain for you depends on how you want to balance the compounds in cannabis.
Causes and Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathy is also referred to as “peripheral neuropathy” because it involves damage to the peripheral nerves. The peripheral nervous system is basically your whole nervous system except your brain and spinal cord, a.k.a. the central nervous system. When peripheral nerves get damaged, the signals between them and your central nervous system go off kilter.
Because the peripheral nerves touch so much of your body, there are many different subtypes of neuropathy, bringing different types of pain. The most common kinds involve prickling, burning, or stabbing pain in the hands or feet, along with great sensitivity to touch – one can even get ghost sensations, as if wearing shoes even if you’re barefoot. Conversely, it can also cause numbness in your extremities – or numbness in some areas, and pain in others.
Other common features of neuropathy in the limbs are muscle weakness and lack of coordination.
A less common form of neuropathy affects the autonomic nervous system, which is involved in your body’s automatic functions like temperature regulation and digestion. Nerve damage to this system causes problems like sweating too much or too little, intestinal upset, and sudden dizziness.
The causes of neuropathic pain are just as diverse as the symptoms. The most common in the U.S. is diabetes, but neuropathy symptoms can also stem from injuries, autoimmune disease, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer, and viral infections. So if you have symptoms of neuropathy, you should absolutely seek medical help to identify and treat the cause as best you can – some of them are very dangerous! Medical cannabis may help relieve some symptoms, but it does not attack the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy.
How Cannabis Can Help with Neuropathic Pain
The main working ingredients in cannabis are called cannabinoids. Cannabis contains over 100 of them, and they all interact with your body’s own endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate many aspects of your body’s functions – including its pain response. While scientists are still unraveling exactly how the cannabinoids interact with the body, some studies suggest that cannabis use can help people with chronic pain, including neuropathic pain.
If you have neuropathy in your autonomic nervous system, cannabis might also provide relief from intestinal upset. Cannabis is well known for reducing nausea, so if that’s the form that your neuropathy takes, it can be particularly helpful.
THC, CBD and Terpenes for Pain Relief
Whole cannabis flower is one of the most popular types of cannabis for neuropathy, but if you’re choosing specific strains, the two cannabinoids you want to focus on are THC and CBD. THC is known as a potent fighter of nausea and pain, but it’s also the cannabinoid that causes the famous “high,” so you want to be careful with it if you’re using it to help your everyday functioning.
CBD works with different nerve receptors, and it does not get you high, though many people find it relaxing. When you’re looking at which strain to use, the balance of THC and CBD is crucial – and this is also something that will vary from person to person. The type and severity of the pain, whether or not there’s nausea involved, and how well you handle the psychoactive effects of THC are all factors to consider.
Another way that cannabis might help your neuropathic pain is with its terpenes. Terpenes are part of what gives plants their distinctive aromas and flavors, and there’s evidence that these terpenes in cannabis can help neuropathic pain in particular:
With all that in mind, let’s look at the top strains you can try for neuropathy.
The Best Strains for Peripheral Neuropathy
As mentioned earlier, the choice of strain is not one-size-fits-all – everyone’s response to cannabis products is a little different. The following list is a starting point if you’re looking for a mix of THC, CBD, and terpenes.
Bubba Kush is a cannabis strain known for its sweet aroma and fairly high THC content – around 15% to 25%. It also includes the terpenes caryophyllene and limonene. It’s not naturally high in CBD, but some CBD-heavy breeds have been developed, and you can get cannabis products that include both Bubba Kush and CBD.
ACDC, despite its hard-rock name, is a good choice if you’re looking for a less intoxicating strain, since it typically runs about 5% THC and 24% CBD. Its terpene profile includes beta-caryophyllene, beta-pinene, and linalool.
Blueberry is a strain with medium-to-high THC levels, similar to Bubba Kush, and a sweet, fruity flavor that provides its name. The terpenes creating that flavor include caryophyllene, pinene, and humulene.
Cannatonic is a more CBD-heavy strain, but it’s more balanced than ACDC, with about 14% CBD and 7% THC. Its bright, lemony flavor comes from a strong terpene profile that includes beta-caryophyllene and linalool.
You may have noticed that geraniol, despite being listed as a terpene that can help neuropathy, hasn’t turned up in the strains so far. That’s because it’s a fairly unusual terpene to appear in cannabis in more than trace amounts. Harlequin, though, is an exception – and is also high in pinene and caryophyllene. Its ratio of CBD to THC is similar to Cannatonic’s.
Final Thoughts: Cannabis as a Tool for Chronic Pain
If you have symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, cannabis may be worth trying. Appropriate medical treatment as well as lifestyle changes are often necessary to help manage neuropathy. If you are going to try cannabis for neuropathy, choosing the correct strain of cannabis for your needs can help make your everyday life more livable, even if you can’t cure the condition.
Low-dose vaporized cannabis significantly improves neuropathic pain
Terpenes from Cannabis sativa Induce Antinociception in Mouse Chronic Neuropathic Pain via Activation of Spinal Cord Adenosine A2A Receptors
Prevalence of peripheral neuropathy defined by monofilament insensitivity in middle-aged and older adults in two US cohorts