CBD for Sciatica: Here’s what you need to know
The sciatic nerve runs throughout the lower back and the legs, and when it is pushed too hard or rubbed the wrong way, it can cause terrible pain over a vast area.
There are many causes of sciatic pain, from herniated discs to bone spurs in the spine. Any of them can be complicated by factors such as obesity, passive lifestyle, advanced age, and diabetes.
As a chronic pain issue that impacts everyday life, people with sciatica have limited options. Painkillers and over-the-counter meedications are only so effective, not to mention potentially harmful. Many patients seek out alternative treatments, including CBD products such as oils and topicals.
In this post, we explore whether CBD can help with the management of sciatic pain, and provide our opinion on the best CBD brand for sciatica in 2020. We’ll talk about what sciatica is, who gets it, how it feels, and how CBD can work to treat it. We’ll explain why we like Spruce CBD generally and why we like Spruce CBD oil and Spruce CBD salve as complementary therapy for sciatica.
What Is Sciatica?
Mayo Clinic describes sciatica as a painful sensation radiating from the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back and branches through the hips, buttocks, and legs. Obviously, this means aggravation of the nerve and sciatica can cause hip pain, leg pain, or back pain—and all of these symptoms of sciatica typically occur on one side of the body.
These factors make sciatica confusing. For example, it can seem like a localized injury on one side. But what’s really going on in each case—whether it’s a herniated disk, bone spurs (hard bumps forming on the spine), or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spine)—is compression of the sciatic nerve causing pain, numbness, and tingling in affected areas.
Sciatica can also cause regular motion to feel much more difficult because the feet and legs feel weak. Even the sudden movements caused by normal motion from coughing or sneezing can exacerbate sciatic nerve pain as motion shakes the nerve.
Although sciatica can last a very long time, in most cases, sciatica is a temporary condition lasting between four to six weeks.
A slipped disc from an injury is the most common cause of sciatica. When the soft tissue between other bones and the spine is moved out of place, a slipped disc can occur. This can lead the spine to push against the sciatic nerve causing sciatica.
It is difficult to treat slipped discs because they don’t typically go back in place or heal well on their own once they become dislodged from their original position beneath the vertebrae. As a result, a slipped disc often leads to chronic, frustrating conditions that can include intense, day-to-day pain.
Spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal and resulting compression of spinal cord nerves, is another very common cause of sciatic nerve pain. Spinal stenosis is frequently mistaken for general leg or back pain and typically occurs in older people.
Spondylolisthesis, a problem that causes the vertebrae to slip out of place, causing friction between the bones and the sciatic nerve, can also trigger sciatica. Spondylolisthesis is one of the leading causes of lower back pain, and many people do not realize they have it.
When protective discs that offer padding between the spinal cord and bones start to break down, it can cause discomfort and pain from pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is called degenerative disc disease, and it is another cause of sciatica.
Who is Likely to Suffer from Sciatic Pain?
Sciatica is, at a minimum, irritating. Just coughing or sneezing can be enough to trigger pain. Severe sciatica can cause intense pain that compromises ability to function, let alone perform.
Risk factors for sciatica include:
- Aging. Over time, the body’s discs become damaged and stressed. The sciatic nerve becomes irritated as bone spurs develop.
- Sedentary lifestyle. People such as office workers who sit for long periods of time are more prone to sciatica. This is because without the relief it gets from intermittent movement, the spine is under pressure for too long just from being held still. Mitigate this issue by using a high quality chair and getting up to take breaks frequently.
- Certain jobs. Some jobs are more likely to place extra stress on the spine or create injury by requiring the worker to carry heavy loads, twist their back, or otherwise perform risky tasks.
- Overweight. Carrying too much weight pressures the spinal cord and may trigger sciatica.
Of course, many people are susceptible to multiple risk factors. For example, someone who is overweight, doesn’t get much exercise, is older, and suffers from diabetes is at high risk for sciatica.
This is even more true if they work in a job involving heavy physical labor—particularly if they lead an otherwise passive lifestyle. Whether you’re sitting at a desk for eight hours at a time or engaging in repetitive motions, sciatic nerve pain is more likely to develop in people who work these types of jobs.
My Sciatica Issues: From One of Our Testers
As a kid I remember watching my grandmother struggle to stand up, grabbing her hip in pain. Later, as a young adult, it was my aunt who was suffering from sciatica. Now it’s me.
I’ve been coping with sciatic pain for about ten years now—since my late 30s. At first that shooting pain down my leg and back was just startling. Now it’s a serious problem, and some days I’m hunched over like an oldster.
I don’t have health insurance, but even if I did, I’m familiar with the traditional routine because my aunt went through it for years (and she still is). Cortisone shots last for a few weeks—and they don’t feel great going in, trust me. They’re still the best thing going, but they are less and less effective.
Muscle relaxers are a non-starter. They don’t work and make you gorked out. Stretching and yoga are excellent, but they can’t put a stop to sciatica pain that is already there. (Do them anyway!)
That’s why CBD is a really useful tool in the sciatic pain relief toolbox.
How Can CBD Help Relieve Symptoms of Sciatica?
Neuropathic pain is the kind that irritation, inflammation, or neural tissue compression causes. Nociceptive pain is triggered as the body reacts to painful stimuli, such as when the inflammatory response is triggered, and it does not itself cause nerve damage.
Sciatica generally causes both neuropathic and nociceptive pain, and research indicates that CBD can alleviate both types.
Cannabidiol or CBD is a critical part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), binding with the CB1 and CB2 receptors to send signals about conditions and restore homeostasis or balance in your body. In this role, CBD and other cannabinoids fight pain and inflammation, and therefore can help treat sciatica and other health issues.
Research has already proven that CBD is a potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Specific research also seems to support the idea that CBD can treat neuropathic pain—and this is certainly an element of sciatica. The remaining inflammatory response is also something that CBD can treat, as research indicates.
So, although no study has directly investigated the effectiveness of CBD in treating sciatic pain in humans, there is ample anecdotal evidence and plenty of suggestive science out there to make trying it a sound idea.
CBD oil will not cure sciatica; it doesn’t address the underlying issues such as compression of the sciatic nerve. However, its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties can alleviate some of the worst symptoms.
Conventional therapies for sciatica include anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and other over-the-counter painkillers. Doctors also recommend ice or hot packs and physical therapy.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a popular choice, but they only relieve nociceptive pain and inflammation, not neuropathic pain. In contrast, CBD oil has proven to have anticonvulsant and antidepressant benefits in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Pros and Cons of Using CBD to Treat Sciatica
- Safe. CBD has a very high safety profile and is well-tolerated by humans, even at high doses of as much as 1500mg daily.
- Legal. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, it is legal to produce and sell hemp-derived CBD oil, despite the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still has yet to meaningfully regulate the area or acknowledge that hemp-based products have therapeutic qualities.
- Easy. It is simple to find CBD products over the counter without a prescription, in contrast to medical marijuana products, which require some kind of authorization except in recreational states.
- Variety. CBD is available in a huge range of products, from gummies to tinctures, topicals, and vapes.
- Side effects. CBD oil has a few minor side effects despite its high safety profile, including dry mouth, fatigue, and appetite changes.
- Interactions. If you take prescription medications, you should always talk to a medical practitioner before supplementing with CBD because it may interact with some medications.
- Uncertainty. The research in support of CBD as sciatica treatment remains inconclusive.
What Types of CBD Work Best for Sciatica: CBD Oil or CBD Topicals?
This is a good question, although to a very real extent this will vary somewhat from person to person. Pain management is very personal. Still, there are a few ways to consider how to identify the best CBD for sciatica in your case:
Full-spectrum CBD and the entourage effect
CBD products may offer full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, or CBD isolate. Full-spectrum CBD retains all of the naturally-occurring phytonutrients from the hemp plant. This enables full-spectrum CBD products to produce the entourage effect, the result of multiple terpenes and cannabinoids working together in synergy to create greater benefits and/or function more efficiently.
The entourage effect is still produced by broad-spectrum CBD to some extent, but broad-spectrum products lack the trace amounts of THC that full-spectrum extracts retain. CBD isolates remove all other terpenes and cannabinoids, somewhat reducing the effectiveness of the CBD—so these products are best for people who regularly get tested for drugs.
Lame as it is, there are still some states that place limits on even hemp-derived CBD products, including where they can be bought and how they are labeled. Since marijuana-derived products are regulated far more strictly, stick to hemp-based CBD products.
Buy CBD products from reputable brands. If you are shopping around, look for organically-grown hemp from the US and CBD products made with the heatless and solventless supercritical CO2 extraction method.
Look for CBD products that are independently tested for content analysis by a third-party laboratory. Reputable companies post lab reports online or make them available so you can see the potency of CBD and verify that the product is free of any contaminants and dangerous substances.
Read real customer reviews. Focus on third-party websites and blogs on the use of CBD, not just product websites. Explore flavor options or CBD capsules if you dislike the naturally bitter taste of hemp. Are you hoping for a topical or tincture treatment option? Something different like a vape or CBD gummies?
For sciatica, CBD topicals, such as CBD salves, creams, lotions, and gels, can treat localized pain and discomfort in the lower back, buttocks, hips, and legs. Another excellent option is CBD tincture or oil sublingually twice a day.
Our Favorite CBD for Sciatica
Our favorite brand for treating sciatica? Spruce—and we like to hit it with a one-two punch of CBD oil in the form of 2,400mg Max Potency Full Spectrum CBD Oil Tincture and CBD topical in the form of Spruce 2,000mg Full Spectrum CBD Salve. Here’s why Spruce generally:
Quality. Spruce sources all of their hemp from family-owned Kentucky and Colorado farms known for sustainable, safe farming processes. These growers offer some of the highest potency and quality hemp and cannabis strains available for use for CBD consistently.
Process. Spruce extracts CBD using a unique technique with moonshine as a solvent to create a high-quality blend of high-CBD, low-level THC hemp seed oil. To ensure that there is zero aftertaste or effects from the moonshine, it is completely filtered out before bottling.
Purity. All Spruce CBD products are guaranteed to be free of harmful pesticides, chemicals, and heavy metals, and are tested by an independent third party laboratory to prove it. Lab testing information is available on the site.
Service. Spruce ships free within the US and delivers within 2 to 4 days, typically. You qualify for a full refund after your first purchase according to their return policy if you return your purchase unopened according to directions.
Understanding CBD (Cannabidiol) for Back Pain
Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is a new and relatively understudied treatment for pain, including back pain. Studies suggest it may help relieve inflammation, which is often a factor in chronic back pain. 1
CBD is available in many forms; topical creams and gels have shown promising results for inflammation and neuropathy, which may make them a good option for back and neck pain. 2
CBD requires more research in order to prove and explain its effectiveness as well as to better understand potential side effects (especially long-term) and potential drug interactions.
What Is CBD?
CBD oil is derived from a plant called cannabis sativa. The plant has over 100 chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, that have a range of effects, including anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) qualities.
The cannabis sativa plant has two main varieties that are grown for specific purposes:
- THC content. THC is the compound associated with the “high” feeling of marijuana use.
- Industrial (non-drug) uses. This form of the plant contains trace amounts of THC (less than .03%) and can be used to make paper, clothing, and some building material. This variation of the cannabis plant is called hemp.
While CBD is present in both varieties, many of the CBD products available to consumers are from the hemp plant. CBD does not come with the high or psychogenic effects of marijuana.
Ways CBD Treats Back Pain
Research indicates that CBD may reduce back pain by:
- Reducing inflammation 3
- Combating anxiety, often associated with long-lasting or chronic back pain 4
- Helping with sleep and improving overall state of relaxation 5
Some studies suggest that CBD can have an effect on how an individual perceives pain, but more robust research is needed. CBD is generally considered a full-body treatment, which means that it does not target back pain specifically—except in the case of topical products—but contributes to an overall feeling of relaxation and pain relief.
Advocates of CBD believe it can be used to treat a range of conditions in addition to back pain, such as anxiety-related disorders. 5
Potential Risks and Side Effects of CBD
Cannabidiol, even in high amounts, is generally safe. Side effects from CBD may include:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
More severe side effects, while rare, include:
- Mental confusion
As with other natural products, there is potential for adverse reactions when taken with other medications, especially those that come with grapefruit warnings, such as certain blood thinners. These warnings indicate that certain medications should not be taken with products containing grapefruit.
CBD use prior to surgery
Before having surgery, all cannabis use, including CBD and marijuana, should be disclosed to the surgeon or anesthesiologist. A recent study suggests that cannabis use may have an effect on medications used to sedate patients. 6