There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the medical use of marijuana, particularly for controlling intractable pain. THC and CBD, two marijuana extracts, both stimulate receptors belonging to our body’s endocannabinoid system.

But there’s another compound called PEA (palmitoylethanolamide), unrelated to marijuana, which has similar effects. It has also undergone extensive studies, stimulates more receptors in the endocannabinoid system than those associated with the marijuana extracts, has no psychotropic effects, and no known side effects—probably because the body naturally produces it. (Plus, no issues of questionable legality.)

But let me back up.

The Endocannabinoid System

The body produces its own cannabinoids, which act like neurotransmitters and bind to receptors throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. These receptors modulate inflammation and the immune response, help the body maintain homeostasis (balance), and apparently help modulate pain as well (especially neuropathic pain—probably because of where the receptors are located). The body’s endocannabinoids include anandamide, and PEA.

The first cannabinoid receptors discovered, and those primarily stimulated by marijuana extracts, are CB1 and CB2. PEA has indirect effects on CB1 and 2, but it primarily affects other cannabinoid receptors (such as PPAR-a and GPR55). It also exhibits a similar anti-inflammatory mechanism of action to NSAIDs and opiates

PEA as Neuropathic Pain Treatment

The studies are numerous.

This study specifically shows that PEA is effective for controlling pain associated with sciatica and carpal tunnel, while this study shows that it is effective for treating post-chemo neuropathy. 

This study specifically investigates PEA for pelvic pain, it is shown to be effective.

This study shows that it is effective for fibromyalgia.

This meta-analysis of 12 studies shows that PEA is overall effective for various types of chronic pain, with no known side effects.

The Upshot

PEA is a fatty acid that is produced naturally, but it can also be found in foods (soy lecithin—non-GMO, of course, eggs, and peanuts) or taken as a supplement. Also, according to this study, the micronized versions absorb the best.