Medical Cannabis and Sciatica

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, a large nerve extending from the lower back down the back of each leg. Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain and often some numbness in the affected leg.

Although the pain associated with sciatica can be severe, most cases resolve with non-operative treatments in a few weeks. People who have severe sciatica that’s associated with significant leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes might be candidates for surgery.

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the rear or leg that is worse when sitting
  • Hip pain
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear
  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up

Sciatica usually affects only one side of the lower body. Often, the pain extends from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also extend to the foot or toes.

How Cannabis Relieves Different Types of Pain

When medical marijuana is taken for chronic nerve pain, it may provide pain relief by reducing connections between the areas of the brain that process emotions and sensory signals, according to a study published in the September 5, 2018, online issue of Neurology. The study looked specifically at radicular pain, a type of nerve pain that radiates from the spine into the legs.

Cannabis is known to relieve pain, but pain can arise for a variety of reasons which makes choosing the right cannabis product tricky. Knowing which cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD) have been shown to treat different pain types is useful information to take with you on your next dispensary visit.

The different types of pain fall into three general categories:

  • Nociceptive pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Central pain 

Since each type of pain has a different origin, each type has an optimal treatment strategy. 

Pain results from the coordinated activation of brain cells. While these brain regions lead to the sensation of pain, they can also modulate the strength of the pain signals.