Can medical marijuana help with symptoms of sciatica? Read on to learn more below. 

What is sciatica?

Sciatica, aka lumbar radiculopathy, is a pain originating from the sciatic nerve that extends from the back of the pelvis down to the thigh. Your sciatic nerve is the main nerve in the leg and the largest nerve in the entire body. Sciatica is a prevalent complaint. About forty percent of people in the U.S. experience sciatica sometime during their life. Back pain is the third most common reason people visit the doctor. 

Symptoms of Sciatica

The most common symptoms of sciatica include the following:

  • Lower back pain that radiates or spreads downward
  • Pain extending from the glutes down to the foot
  • Numbness or Weakness in the legs or back

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is often caused by a herniated disk in the spine that presses on the sciatic nerve.

Other reasons may include the following:

  • Obesity
  • Poor posture
  • Tumor
  • Abscess
  • Blood clot
  • Odd or prolonged sitting position
  • Nerve disorders

Risk Factors

  • Injury: An injury to the lower back or spine puts you at greater risk for sciatica.
  • Aging: A natural wearing down of bone tissue and disks in your spine comes with normal aging. Aging can put the nerves at risk of injury by the changes and shifts in bones, disks, and ligaments.
  • Obesity: The weight carried in the front of your body is what the spine has to lift. The more weight you have, the more your back muscles have to work, leading to back strains and pains. 
  • Weak Core: The stronger your core muscles, the more support you’ll have for the lower back.
  • Physically demanding job: Jobs that require heavy lifting may increase the risk of back problems.
  • Poor Posture: You can be prone to sciatica if you don’t follow the appropriate body form during strength training exercises.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes increases the chance of nerve damage, which increases the chance of sciatica.
  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis can cause damage to the spine and put nerves at risk of injury.
  • Inactive lifestyle: Sitting for long periods can increase your risk of sciatica.
  • Smoking: The nicotine in tobacco can damage spinal tissue, weaken bones, and wear down vertebral disks.

Diagnosing Sciatica

A sciatica diagnosis will come with an entire medical history and physical exam, possibly along with the following tests:

  • X-ray. Electromagnetic energy makes images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Large magnets, radiofrequency energy, and a computer create detailed pictures of your body.
  • Electromyography and nerve conduction study (EMG and NCS). A combination procedure is done to record and analyze electrical impulses in your muscles. When stimulating the nerve at various places, the doctor can determine the specific area of injury.

Treatment Options

Sciatica typically heals naturally with rest and time. Pain-relieving treatments may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medicines
  • Heat or cold on sore spots
  • Light Movement
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Acupuncture
  • Surgery to repair the disk

Can medical cannabis help? 

A 2016 study in the International Journal of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine examined medical cannabis patients with sciatica, spinal stenosis, and herniated discs. The study followed the patients for twelve months and evaluated them for pain and range of motion. The results show that the patients experienced an increased range of motion, mental function, and less back pain. 

CBD has anti-inflammatory qualities, can reduce pain, and even fully treat pain in some patients. It is also an antioxidant and can help reduce long-term inflammation. CBD contains cannabinoid receptors that can block chronic pain signals in the brain and trigger an increased immune response. 

Research has shown CBD has been shown to reduce stress. CBD benefits general anxiety disorder and other severe anxiety conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Studies in mice and rats showed lower heart rates and less stress with CBD.

A recent study that used a simulated public speaking test to show anxiety levels in speakers showed significant promise that CBD can help reduce fears and anxiety associated with speaking in front of a group. Continued research is being done to see how CBD can manage various forms of stress.  

CBD has been shown in research studies to help people fall asleep, stay asleep, and improve sleep quality. The endocannabinoid system has a part in maintaining several body functions, including sleep and regulation of circadian rhythms. Many cannabinoids can offer a night of better sleep and, thus, a healthy lifestyle for sciatica sufferers. 

Last Updated: June 14, 2024

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