A study published in the journal Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids conducted out of Hamburg, Germany found that cannabis inhalation is associated with sustained improvements in pain and sleep for patients with chronic neuropathy.
Neuropathy is a condition caused by damaged peripheral nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord, which can cause weakness, numbness and pain, most often in the hands and feet. Though, it can also affect other areas and bodily functions, like digestion and urination.
“Neuropathic pain has its origin in lesions or diseases affecting the central or peripheral nervous system,” researchers explain in the study introduction. “The primary cause of peripheral neuropathic pain is the response to damage or irritation of the nerves.”
A Retrospective Look at Cannabis and Neuropathic Pain
In the retrospective, observatory study, researchers used anonymized data provided by Algea Care GmbH, a German telemedicine platform for treating chronic diseases with medical cannabis. Investigators assessed the use of cannabis flower in a cohort of 99 patients with neuropathic pain and high severity of symptoms. They were also considered eligible for medical cannabis treatment.
Patients were instructed to inhale cannabinoids through a vaporizer by heating cannabis flower, and one patient took an oral THC extract. Some patients inhaled at a fixed time, and some inhaled when they had a pain attack.
Investigators evaluated patient data between July 2021 and September 2021, with pain and sleep disturbance scaled from 0 to 10. Researchers compared the baseline scores with those at the first follow-up. Patients with pain scores above 6 were classified as having “severe pain.”
Significant Improvements Across the Board
At the baseline, the majority of patients had severe pain (96% of patients scored over 6) with a median pain score of 7.5. At the first follow-up consultation, within six weeks from the beginning of therapy, pain was reduced “significantly” to a median pain score of 3.75. During the subsequent fix follow-up consultations, the pain score continued to decrease slightly to 3.5 and then 3 before stabilizing.
Those with severe pain decreased from 96% at the baseline to 15% at the first follow-up consultation, which was sustained until the end of the six-month observation period.
A majority of patients also suffered from severe sleep disturbance, with a median score of 8. At the first follow-up consultation, researchers observed a “significant” improvement in sleep, dropping from 8 to 2.
Regarding their general condition, 90% of patients reported an improvement. Over the entire six-month observation period, 97 patients reported improvements in their general condition. No serious side effects were reported, but mild side effects were reported infrequently, including dryness of mucous tissue (5.4%), fatigue (4.8%) and increased appetite (2.7%). There were also single reports of rare adverse effects, like dizziness, intoxication, restlessness and nausea.
Promising Result for Cannabis, Neuropathy and Chronic Pain
“The results of this study demonstrated that chronic neuropathic pain can be effectively, sustainably, and safely treated with medical cannabis,” authors concluded. “The largest pain relief was achieved within 6 weeks. Considering the plastic feature of chronic neuropathic pain, which cannot be corrected in a short time, the effect of medical cannabis is swift in comparison. The over 40% improvement is also a success especially as other analgesic drugs used before had limited or no effects in this cohort.”
Citing the frequent follow-ups performed in the study, researchers also noted the sustainability and stability of the effect is a “key issue” for pain therapies.
Researchers also said that the large improvement in sleep disturbance is likely due to the improvement in pain symptoms, though they noted it’s also possible that medical cannabis plays a direct effect on sleep.
They also noted the lack of serious adverse effects and that the most commonly reported mild side effects were already familiar known side effects of cannabis.
A recent survey similarly identified neuropathy pain decreases after starting cannabis. And another January 2023 study published in JAMA Network Open found that nearly one in three patients with chronic pain use cannabis as an analgesic agent. Many of them also substituted cannabis in place of opioids.