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Using Marijuana to Overcome Face Pain

A reader wonders if an older person might use marijuana to ease the horrible searing face pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia.

Pain resulting from nerve damage can be unrelenting and extremely difficult to treat. When the trigeminal nerve is affected, it causes face pain that is capable of ruining a person’s quality of life. What are the options for easing this type of pain? One reader thought of an unorthodox solution.

Trying to Ease Recalcitrant Face Pain:

Q. I have a question regarding trigeminal neuralgia. My mother suffers from this very painful condition.

Carbamazepine is effective in stopping the pain but it has side effects that she doesn’t tolerate, even at low doses. Surgery is not an option for her.

Are there any other treatments that provide relief for the pain? I find myself wondering if medical marijuana might help because it has been noted to help with other types of nerve pain.

A. Trigeminal neuralgia is a disruption of the nerve to the face and head that causes intermittent excruciating pain. It may feel like an electric shock or a burning sensation that can last from seconds to several minutes. This pain can be disabling and is hard to treat, though some patients get relief from anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine.

Might Marijuana Help with Face Pain?

The possibility of using medical marijuana (in the form of cannabinoids) was suggested in a medical journal article (Current Drug Targets. CNS and Neurological Disorders, Dec. 2004).  Research in rats also indicates that cannabinoids might be helpful for easing the pain of trigeminal neuralgia (Neuropharmacology, July, 2007).

We have not seen clinical trials of cannabinoids for trigeminal neuralgia, and we recognize that your mother is not a rat. If, however, she lives in a state where she could try this potential treatment legally, it might be worthwhile.

We received this message on the use of a cannabinoid for pain:

“I need a shoulder replacement but because I must use my arms to get on and off my power wheelchair, the operation would be risky. During physical therapy recently, I got a recommendation for something called CBD (cannabidiol). This is a compound in marijuana, but the THC has been removed so it does not make me high.

“I buy it online and have used two squirts of CBD oil in my mouth daily for four days. I cannot tell you how well this works. I can move my arms again and am looking forward to unfreezing my shoulder.”

This person finds that it is relatively easy to purchase CBD oil online.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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