Thou cold sciatica, cripple our senators, that their limbs may halt as lamely as their manners.
Shakespeare, Timon of Athens (1607)
As seen in Shakespeare’s quote, sciatica is a bedeviling condition. It has been tormenting mankind for hundreds – if not thousands – of years. Those who suffer from it chronically are well aware of the misery it brings to their lives — as well as the physical impact it can have on day-to-day well-being.
There’s a lot of misconception about what sciatica is, however. First and foremost, it is not actually a medical condition in itself; it’s a symptom of some other underlying problem. For example, a lumbar herniated disc or spinal stenosis could be the root of the problem.
Generally, sciatica describes symptoms of pain that travel through the large sciatic nerve. Because this pain can stem from so many different medical conditions, sciatica is prevalent among millions of Americans. Recent estimations, in fact, have suggested that up to 40% of U.S. adults will at some point or another experience sciatic nerve pain.
Sciatica: An Agonizing Condition
Anyone who’s suffered from sciatic nerve pain will tell you how agonizing it can be. In fact, millions of people each year resort to prescription medications to treat the often-times debilitating pain.
Of course, many of us are well aware of the abuse and addiction risks (not to mention the dangerous side-effects) that come along with prescription pharmaceutical drug use.
This is where cannabis – and specifically CBD – comes in. Use of CBD oil for sciatica has increased to the point where some consider it an alternative option for pain management. As is the case with other conditions, more and more people are turning to it in place of prescription drugs.
In this article, we’ll discuss irritation of the sciatic nerve and how CBD might work to mollify not only the pain itself, but also the underlying conditions. Last but not least, we’ll dish out a few of our top picks for the best CBD oils for sciatica that you’ll find on the market.
What Is Sciatica… and Can CBD Really Help?
The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body. It starts in the lower back and extends downwards through the buttocks and into each leg, innervating everything from the toes to the lower back muscles.
Pain associated with the nerve can range anywhere from a mild tingling sensation in the feet or toes, to completely debilitating and immobilizing lower back and leg pain.
Sciatic nerve pain can cause anything from a mild tingling sensation, to complete debilitation of the lower back and legs.
While many things can irritate the nerve and cause acute or temporary discomfort, the most common cause of chronic sciatica is a herniated (slipped) disc. This is where the jelly-like disc protrudes from the spinal column and presses up against the nerve itself.
The tough thing about treating slipped discs is once they become “dislodged” from beneath the vertebrae, they don’t typically heal well or go back into place on their own. Naturally, this can cause frustrating and long-term conditions. Intense pain can be a day-to-day occurrence, and sleep can become difficult. Other causes of sciatica can include:
- Pinched/compressed nerves in the lower vertebrae
- Acute injuries
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
As far as those people most at risk, individuals with overly strenuous physical labor jobs are more likely to develop sciatic nerve pain, as are individuals who sit for long periods of time (i.e. 8+ hours a day for years on end) without walking/stretching breaks.
Conventional Treatment Methods (Other than CBD) for Sciatica
Treatment options for sciatic nerve pain are about as far-reaching as the vast assortment of medical conditions that cause it. While some individuals may find relief through lower-back stretches and body strengthening workouts like yoga and pilates, many others are left with not much alternative other than to rely on heavy-duty prescription painkillers.
In instances where the pain stems from inflamed tissue coming into contact with the nerve, alternating hot and cold packs have proven to be effective. General over the counter drugs like ibuprofen can work as well.
Physical therapy is also an efficient treatment, as is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). With CBT, patients are ‘trained’ to react differently to pain sensations. While an interesting approach, results can be hit or miss.
Surgery can also be an option as well in the most severe of cases. Procedures like lumbar laminectomies (widening of the vertebrae to minimize pressure on the nerve) have been effective in some instances. Discectomies (complete removal of slipped discs) can also work. In any instance, surgery should be a last resort option.
In terms of conventional sciatica treatment, surgery should always be a last resort option.
All in all, many individuals who seek alternative treatment methods like CBD oil for their sciatica are chronic sufferers that want to avoid heavy-duty dosages of prescription medication.
CBD Oil for Sciatica: A Realistic Alternative to Prescription Meds?
As we mentioned in the intro, there have been people in recent years that have been able to use CBD oil for sciatica in place of a prescription drug. Not only is CBD a cheaper option, but it also poses very little side-effects which is a major consideration taking into account the complications associated with painkillers.
The real question is how exactly does CBD and medical marijuana for sciatica work to appease the intense pain that comes along with the condition? Can it really be effective for things like pinched nerves or herniated discs?
To understand the specific physiological role of CBD in the body, we need to first understand the basic role of the endocannabinoid system as it relates to pain sensation and pain management pathways in the central nervous system.
The Importance of Research Studies
Four years ago, doctors Perry Fine and Mark Rosenfeld published a peer-reviewed study showcasing the physiological functions of endocannabinoids as therapeutic pain modulators. Essentially, their work portrayed the fact that everyone – whether they’ve smoked marijuana a day in their life or not – has an innate network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that work together to modulate the pathways of nociception – the body’s response to harmful stimuli.
In the event of abnormal circumstances (i.e. a herniated disc pressing up against your sciatic nerve), the endocannabinoid system becomes overwhelmed and cannot perform at its normal rate of efficiency. This is when – and why – we experience bouts of unbearable pain. It is also when the therapeutic effects of CBD may become useful.
Functionally, CBD appears to act as a ‘reinforcement’ to the body’s natural pain management system. That is, to its network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. As a cannabinoid itself, CBD increases the number of pain modulators that are available to initiate a response to harmful stimuli. ‘Harmful stimuli’ can include anything from a bulging disc to an inflamed tissue pressing up against the sciatic nerve. In other words, it appears that CBD increases the body’s ability to minimize pain under “abnormal conditions”.
Functionally, CBD acts as a ‘reinforcement’ to the body’s natural pain management system.
Consider it like this. When we have a bacterial infection, we take antibiotics to reinforce the body’s immune system and help it overcome the presence of harmful bacteria. CBD appears to do the same thing, albeit with pain and the natural physiological processes of pain management.
CBD vs. THC: Are All Cannabinoids Created the Same?
As it turns out, both THC and CBD (the two primary cannabinoids in marijuana), have similar effects on the Endocannabinoid System in terms of their ability to influence pain modulation.
However, due to the obvious psychoactive effects of THC, many people are hesitant about using it as a medication. In fact, most would probably prefer not to have to get stoned in order to deal with their day-to-day pain.
This is why CBD – and CBD oil in particular – are becoming so appealing to sufferers of sciatic pain. CBD maintains its therapeutic effect as a cannabinoid while completely bypassing psychoactive effects. In other words, it can help with pain and inflammation, but it won’t get you high.
Cain Velasquez is a popular MMA fighter who openly uses CBD oil for sciatic nerve pain. The fighter claims there were times his pain was so severe he could only stand for minutes at a time. In fact, had to pull out of a few high-profile fights due to sciatica-related issues.
Since discovering CBD oil, Velasquez says he recovers properly and can train harder after fights. He also vows that CBD is superior to pain meds due to its non-addictive nature and minimal side effects.
[Sciatica is] an achy pain that goes down your leg … it gets to a point where if you’re standing for 10 minutes, you have to sit down. [CBD] is the only thing that allows me to still train – and I’m not taking a harmful painkiller into my body that I’ll later become addicted to.
MMA fighter Cain Velasquez
Current Research on CBD, Sciatica, and Potential Therapeutic Effects
Back in 2005, Italian researchers conducted a study that looked at the effects of CB-1 receptors on pain response. Specifically, they observed the effects of nerve demyelination (one of the underlying causes of sciatica) in rodents. They also considered the potential influence of cannabinoid receptors on “chronic constriction injury of the sciatic nerve.”
The researchers wanted to see whether cannabinoids like CBD had an effect on sciatica-related pain. Prior to cannabinoid treatment, sciatic nerve tissue analysis in the animal subjects showed “marked degeneration” of myelinated fibers. In other words, damage to the rodent’s sciatic nerve was prevalent.
After “repeated administration” of cannabinoid treatment, it was observed that damage to the nerve tissue was reduced. This suggests that cannabinoids like CBD may be able to function in myelin tissue repair. They also may be able to “promote long-lasting functional recovery,” as noted by the researchers.
Present findings suggest that [cannabinoid treatment] is effective not only in alleviating neuropathic pain, but also in favoring nerve myelin repair.
July 2005 article from academic journal ‘Pain’
Even with this promising information, it’s important to remember that CBD for sciatic nerve pain is not yet an FDA-approved form of treatment. For this reason, your doctor will not be able to prescribe it. Long-term clinical trials will be necessary if we are to get to the point where a CBD-based sciatica drug exists.
That said, high-quality products are still readily available in the US, with or without a medical cannabis license. These products are derived from hemp, which is a legal commercial crop under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.
Best CBD Oil for Sciatica: Our Top Picks
In light of the potential for CBD oil to be able to treat sciatica, you may be thinking, ‘where can I get some?’
Well, you’ve basically got two options. If you live in a state where cannabis is legal (either recreationally or medically – and you have a valid MMJ card) you can buy high-quality products from licensed marijuana dispensaries. These CBD oils are made from high-THC cannabis strains and can be very potent.
If you don’t live in a state where buying from a dispensary is an option, however, you can buy products online that are made from industrial hemp. Since hemp contains levels of THC below the federal limit of 0.3%, these products are sold in all 50 states. We’ll leave it up to you to do your own research in finding a good, high-quality CBD manufacturer (if you decide to go the online route).
Just Remember to Prioritize Quality…
We will say however that no one seller should be claiming to have the best CBD oil for sciatica. Given the unregulated nature of the market, you’ll find that large discrepancies in quality can exist from product to product. Look for an oil that has been extracted using CO2 methods, and one that has laboratory-verified ingredients.
Basically, take into consideration the following criteria before you rush to buy any random CBD oil for sciatica:
- Variation in CBD oil quality. While one CBD oil might work for one person, it may not work for another. This is due to many reasons. For example, we each have our own Endocannabinoid System, genetics, general health, and tolerance.
- Don’t expect immediate results. Choosing a CBD oil is a process. It can take a while before the CBD starts to affect your system. Always do your research, and consult with a professional before taking CBD oil or adding it to your treatment routine.
A word from Dr. Mosab Deen on using CBD for sciatica:
Overall, top tier CBD strains confer the ability to prevent further neurodegeneration; ideal for symptoms of sciatica. In addition, studies suggesting CBD as an essential component of neural repair and endocannabinoid synergy makes CBD the top-tier treatment for sciatica exacerbation.
Dr. Mosab Deen
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