People with neuropathy are often desperate for relief. The causes of this nerve pain may vary, from drug side effects to the aftermath of an infection. Sometimes too little or too much of a common vitamin can trigger constant pain or numbness and tingling. Diabetes also frequently causes neuropathy. Doctors may prescribe medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica), and sometimes these are helpful. However, many readers are curious about the potential for cannabis cream to alleviate nerve pain.
Will Cannabis Cream Help?
Q. Have there been any studies on the use of cannabis cream to relieve the burning and tingling of neuropathy in one’s feet? I have a jar of cream that contains cannabis (along with several other herbal ingredients) but I am somewhat hesitant to use it. I live in a state where marijuana is legal, so that is not the problem.
Limited Research on Cannabis Cream:
A. There is limited evidence to support topical cannabis for neuropathy (Hauser et al, Deutsches Arzteblatt, Sept. 22, 2017). However, several studies suggest that inhaled marijuana may offer relief for some people with this painful condition (Journal of Pain, Dec. 2015 and June 2016).
A recent overview of research concludes that long-term risks of such treatment have not been well studied (Mucke et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, March 7, 2018). The scientists point out that some people who start using cannabis cream or other forms of marijuana medicinally may later turn to abusing this drug. They are not sure that the benefits outweigh the potential harms. On the other hand, they might say the same about medications approved to treat neuropathy.
A Cochrane review of gabapentin for this purpose concludes:
“Over half of those treated with gabapentin will not have worthwhile pain relief but may experience adverse events.”
Cannabis for Diabetic Neuropathy:
One complication of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy, severe pain due to nerve damage. People often find it difficult to alleviate the pain of neuropathy. Consequently, we were interested to learn of this reader’s experience easing the agony with a low dose of medical marijuana.
How Can Diabetic Neuropathy Be Soothed?
Q. I have severe diabetic neuropathy. The pain is intense, but it lasts only a short time and can occur anywhere: on the left big toe one time, right little finger the next, left testicle, right earlobe etc.
None of the drugs my doctor prescribed worked very well, and they all took weeks or months to do anything. Even then, the dosage had to be increased and the side effects worsened with that.
Someone suggested I try something that never occurred to me: marijuana. I took two puffs, waited about twenty seconds and the pain was gone-for three days! That was the fastest and longest relief I have ever gotten. More research is needed but it’s very promising.
Will Marijuana Help Diabetic Neuropathy?
A. There has not been much research on the use of medical marijuana for diabetic neuropathy, but we found one study that is of interest. Sixteen people with painful diabetic neuropathy that had not responded well to other treatments participated in a placebo-controlled trial of inhaled marijuana at various doses (Wallace et al, Journal of Pain, July, 2015). This small study showed that their neuropathy pain was significantly reduced at several doses.
In another study, 42 people with neuropathy due to spinal cord injury experienced pain relief when they inhaled cannabis vapor (Wilsey et al, Journal of Pain, Sep. 2016). We agree that more research will be very helpful. People interested in learning about research that has already been done on medical marijuana may wish to listen to our hour-long interview with David Casarett, MD, author of Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana.