Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause of neuropathy (nerve pain). It causes a range of uncomfortable symptoms that affect the fingers, hands, and arms.
Unfortunately, effective carpal tunnel therapies are limited. While some treatments can help patients to manage their symptoms, they often carry a high risk of side effects. Furthermore, they do little to tackle the underlying cause of the pain.
In recent years, cannabis-based medicines such as marijuana and CBD oil have emerged as effective treatments for neurological pain. But does cannabis help carpal tunnel syndrome? We investigate.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The term ‘carpal tunnel’ describes a narrow passageway in the wrist. It allows the median nerve to travel from the forearm to the hand. This nerve is responsible for movement and sensation in the palm, thumb, and first three fingers.
If the carpal tunnel becomes swollen, it can press on the nerve causing unusual feelings and pain. This phenomenon is what we know as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a type of ‘entrapment neuropathy.’ This phrase means that it is a type of nerve pain that does not stem from the nerve fibers themselves. It is the surrounding anatomy pressing on the median nerve that causes the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually come on gradually and worsen over time. They tend to affect the patient’s dominant hand first, but can eventually affect the non-dominant side too.
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
- Tingling, numbness, and pain in the hands and fingers
- Aching hands, fingers, and forearms
- Weakened grip
- Fingers that feel swollen but without visible swelling
These symptoms usually affect the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. They are often worse at night, and patients may wake up with pins and needles or numb hands.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the narrow passageway between the arm and hand presses on the median nerve. It might happen for various reasons, including the following:
- Wrist injury
- Repetitive overuse of the wrist
- Use of vibrating machinery
- Holding the wrist in an unnatural position for long periods
- Cysts or tumors
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to affect people who are overweight or pregnant. It can also occur in association with certain medical conditions, including:
Females are three times more likely to experience carpal tunnel than males. The risk also increases three-fold for people who work in assembly lines or similar fields.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
In many cases, carpal tunnel syndrome will resolve with rest and abstinence from aggravating activities. People suffering from this condition can potentially speed up their recovery by:
- Wearing a wrist splint at night for at least four weeks
- Performing hand and wrist exercises
- Using over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs
- Applying cold packs to combat heat and swelling
- Trying alternative therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, or chiropractic treatment
If a patient’s carpal tunnel syndrome does not respond to the above methods, their doctor may prescribe a steroid injection. The aim is to reduce inflammation in the wrist and reduce pressure on the median nerve. However, these injections sometimes only provide temporary relief, and repeated use may cause further issues.
Another option is surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, although this is usually a last resort. Due to the risks of surgery, doctors only recommend it in extreme cases. That said, carpal tunnel correction remains one of the most common operations in the USA.
For those seeking a more natural alternative, it seems that marijuana and CBD could offer some hope.
Medical Marijuana for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One reason why people use medical marijuana is for pain relief, including neuropathic pain. It works by influencing the body’s in-built endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a complicated network of cell receptors and chemicals called endocannabinoids. Together, they act as a kind of signaling mechanism throughout the body. They are involved in memory, mood, movement, and appetite, to name just a few of their many functions.
The ECS is also involved in the transmission of pain signals. A type of cannabinoid receptor known as CB1 is prevalent throughout the nervous system and brain. Scientists believe that here, endocannabinoids inhibit the release of neurotransmitters, stopping painful messages in their tracks.
It is also here that cannabis exerts its analgesic effects. One of the chemical compounds in marijuana, THC, has a similar molecular shape to our endocannabinoids. Its structure allows it to bind with CB1 receptors and have a comparable effect.
However, the body breaks down THC far more slowly than it does our natural endocannabinoids. This means that the effects of cannabis can last for a much longer time. Marijuana’s powerful stimulation of the CB1 receptors is also what causes its characteristic high.
Unfortunately, the intoxicating effects of cannabis can be off-putting for some people. A 2018 study into cannabis and nerve pain for The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews had some interesting results.
It found that patients using cannabis were more likely to drop out of clinical trials than those using a placebo. They cited adverse nervous system and psychiatric effects as the primary reason. Nevertheless, the review did find that patients using cannabis-based medicines were more likely to experience at least 50% improvements in pain.
Luckily, if you want to benefit from cannabis for carpal tunnel without the high, there are several options available.
CBD for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most of the current research on cannabis for pain has focused on the psychoactive compound, THC. However, in the past few years, more information has emerged regarding its non-intoxicating counterpart, CBD.
Although CBD does not bind with cannabinoid receptors as THC does, it still has a strong influence over the ECS. It appears to slow the breakdown of endocannabinoids and, therefore, enhance their effects.
CBD also interacts with several other physiological systems. One of these is the family of ‘transient receptor potential cation vanilloid’ (TRPV) receptors. These receptors play a vital role in sensory perception, including pain.
Additionally, CBD appears to modulate the immune system, giving it potent anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, research suggests that CBD could be useful in the treatment of several inflammatory conditions.
How to Use CBD for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most people use CBD in oil form by placing a few drops under the tongue. Doing this allows the cannabinoid to bypass the digestive system and pass directly into the bloodstream.
Topical preparations are another popular method of using CBD. They allow consumers to apply the cannabinoid to the area of the body where it is needed most. Therefore, patients using topical CBD for carpal tunnel could massage it directly onto their wrists.
When choosing a CBD product, it may be beneficial to select a brand that uses full-spectrum CBD. These products contain a range of other cannabinoids and other compounds called terpenes
These chemicals may have anti-inflammatory and painkilling effects of their own. Furthermore, some experts believe that they work together synergistically in something called the ‘entourage effect.’
Another thing to look out for is third-party lab reports. These prove that a product contains all that it should and nothing more. They are a good indication that a brand is legitimate and confident in the quality of its CBD.
Finally, be sure to select a product that is strong enough for your needs. However, the exact CBD dosage for carpal tunnel syndrome varies from person to person and depends on many different factors.
For more on this topic, see our article on how to dose CBD oil properly.
Best Strains for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Whether you prefer to use THC or CBD for carpal tunnel, there is probably a suitable cannabis strain for you out there. Many of these are indica-leaning strains that can help you sleep if carpal tunnel is keeping you awake at night.
Some of the most popular high THC strains for carpal tunnel include:
If you prefer something with a higher CBD content and low levels of THC, you could try:
For the best of both worlds, pick a strain like Harlequin. This sativa-dominant hybrid boasts an almost 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, imparting a mild and manageable high.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana and CBD for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you are suffering from carpal tunnel, medical marijuana or CBD may provide some relief.
Although there is little research into cannabis and carpal tunnel specifically, it has proven effective for neurological pain in general. And with so few other effective treatments for carpal tunnel available, it could be well worth a try.
However, we are not doctors, and you should consult with a physician before using cannabis or CBD for carpal tunnel syndrome. Always abide by your state’s specific laws and remember to use responsibly.