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CBD Oil for Sciatica: What the Research Shows

Sciatica is a condition that causes varying degrees of pain, numbness, or weakness in your back and legs. Current treatment options largely revolve around pain relief, and with the addiction issues that come with continued pain treatment, safer treatment options are needed. 

CBD may help you to improve your sciatica and get up and moving again. We’ve researched this natural compound to help you decide if you want to try CBD for your sciatica. 

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a condition that affects your spinal cord, specifically your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve affects your hips, legs, and buttocks, so when it is irritated, you feel pain in these areas—also known as sciatica. 

Sciatica typically occurs when you experience an injury that affects (pinches or puts pressure on) your sciatic nerve, such as a herniated disk or piriformis syndrome caused by a car crash, a fall, or sitting too long. These kinds of injuries can leave you swollen, in pain, and with a reduced range of movement. 

Certain people will be more at risk of developing sciatica. If you’re older, lift heavy objects often, smoke, or have diabetes then your chances of developing sciatica go up.  

Current treatment for sciatica includes cold and hot compress, stretching, pain medication, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, steroid injections, and muscle relaxers. Although even with these options, sciatica can still be hard to treat. 

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound that could help to manage sciatica symptoms thanks to its potential health benefits. Found in cannabis and hemp plants, CBD is a type of compound known as a cannabinoid. 

If you’re looking for a natural treatment, CBD is a good option. Research tells us that CBD has shown promise as a treatment for conditions ranging from anxiety to skin conditions (1, 2). 

How can CBD help sciatica?

CBD might be able to help you manage your sciatica by targeting the pain and inflammation that make the condition so debilitating. While there are no studies directly involving the effects of CBD on sciatica symptoms, research into the side effects of sciatica on other conditions gives us some insight into how effective CBD might be in managing the pain and inflammation of CBD.

CBD’s ability to target pain is thought to come from two mechanisms—targeting serotonin receptors and targeting TRPV1 receptors. Serotonin is a hormone that plays an important role in pain management and TRPV1 is a receptor protein that regulates the sensation of pain. CBD has been found to activate both serotonin and TRPV1 receptors and it may be through this mechanism that the cannabinoid can reduce pain (3, 4).

Research also tells us that CBD may be able to reduce inflammation by acting on a range of pro-inflammatory markers. CBD’s anti-inflammatory activity likely occurs through a combination of its ability to block the production and expression of pro-inflammatory factors and by activating anti-inflammatory receptors (5, 6).

Research on CBD and sciatica

  • A 2020 review published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology analysed studies that investigated CBD’s effect on chronic pain. The review found strong evidence that the CBD treatment over 7 days may relieve chronic pain caused by injury to the sciatic nerve in rats and mice. While this review is based on animal model studies, it does highlight the potential of CBD to reduce pain caused by sciatic nerve injury (7). 
  • CBD’s pain-relieving abilities have been further explored in the use of medications like Sativex, a mouth spray medicine that contains equal amounts of CBD and another cannabinoid called THC. Studies tell us that Sativex is a safe and effective treatment for various forms of pain. It’s important to keep in mind that Sativex contains THC as well and CBD, so we cannot be sure if these pain-relieving effects can be attributed to CBD alone, but the effectiveness of Sativex as an analgesic is promising and further research into CBD’s pain-relieving effects alone is warranted (8). 
  • A reduction in inflammation would provide significant benefits to patients suffering from sciatica. Luckily, CBD seems to show a lot of promise in this area as well. A 2020 study published in the journal Cell Death and Disease investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD, specifically focusing on its effects on inflammatory cells that are present in the inflammatory condition rheumatoid arthritis. The study found that CBD reduced the viability, proliferation, and production of inflammatory inducing cells and concluded that CBD could help to improve inflammatory conditions (9). While this study does not investigate CBD’s anti-inflammatory effect in sciatica directly, it could be indicative of CBD’s ability to reduce swelling in the disorder.

Side effects of CBD 

CBD’s side effects are largely mild, so you can feel safe adding CBD to your sciatica routine, perhaps through transdermal CBD patches or CBD oil drops. We do recommend, however, that you consult your doctor first. 

Side effects that you might experience after CBD use include sleepiness, reduced appetite, lethargy, and diarrhoea (10). But these tend to be mild and infrequent. In fact, studies tell us that doses of CBD as high as 1,500 mg can be used safely (11). 

So long as the CBD you use contains only CBD, then you don’t have to worry about experiencing a high. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for that. 

The bottom line 

Sciatica can be painful, limiting, and hard to manage, but CBD could offer some hope for sufferers. CBD’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties may be able to help relieve some of the symptoms of sciatica and get you moving more freely again. Although it is important to keep in mind that research is largely in the early stages, we need more specific research investigating how CBD affects patients with sciatica before any specific conclusions can be drawn about its effectiveness.

Sara Niedler PhD Medically reviewed for KLORIS by Sarah Neidler, PhD