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Cannabis and Spinal Cord Injuries

May 14, 2014

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are uncommon but can have permanent and devastating effects on one’s daily life and well-being. Still, research has a long way to go in developing effective SCI medications without side effects or addictive potential. As early as the 1970s, studies began documenting cannabis’ ability to fight pain and spasticity in patients with spinal cord injury. Today medical marijuana offers patients an alternative regimen that treats these relentless and unpleasant symptoms that can take such a toll on life quality.

Spinal Cord Injury Causes and Symptoms

Severe pain, stiffness, blood clots, insomnia, uncontrollable bladder and bowel, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, and depression are just some of the symptoms that plague the day-to-day of SCI patients. Spinal cord injuries are divided into two categories: complete and incomplete. At the “complete” level, the patient experiences total function loss below the location of injury. “Incomplete” refers to a partial loss of function with varying degrees of severity between patients.

Spinal cord injuries are caused by trauma to the spine, when dislodged bone fragment, ligaments, or disc material damage the spinal tissue on impact. Unlike back injuries, spinal cord injuries affect motor functions because axons (or extensions of nerve cells that carry messages to the brain) are destroyed by the fractured or compressed vertebrae.

Living with a Spinal Cord Injury

Stuart Parsons, a military veteran of 10 years, suffers from a spinal condition called Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH). Though typically developed over time, Parsons’ DISH was caused by trauma when he was hit hard from behind in a military accident. Four of the spinal discs in his neck became fused together and pushed forward, creating pressure on the esophagus. As a result, Parsons experiences chronic pain, nausea, and eating and breathing difficulties.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) urged Parsons to manage his pain using opiates, but as a recovering drug addict, Parsons adamantly refused. After some deliberation, he decided to instead try the legal medical cannabis Washington state had to offer.

“I cannot tell you how happy I am with it,” Parsons said. “I have learned so much about CBD and its painkilling properties.”

How Cannabis Can Help Treat Spinal Cord Injuries

Many more people are becoming aware of cannabis’ painkilling superpowers, but why it works so well is a story largely left untold. Research has helped piece together an understanding, but despite crystal clear results, development of cannabinoid-based medications for spinal cord injuries remains halted at the political gate.

Studies have confirmed cannabis’ ability to treat many signature symptoms of SCI including pain, spasticity, insomnia, and depression. Some improvement in bladder and bowel control has also been noted. Cannabinoids, the medicinal compounds found in cannabis, are what offer this amazing diversity of symptom relief to SCI patients.

Cannabidiol (CBD), the compound mentioned by Parsons, is slowly but surely becoming a name in the arena of pain relievers. Studies have not only demonstrated CBD’s remarkable painkilling properties, but also its ability to reduce spasticity and improved motor function in SCI patients.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), though stereotyped as marijuana’s "psychoactive stoner" compound, carries its own medical value in treating spinal cord injuries. Various studies show that THC improves many SCI symptoms including pain, spasticity, bladder control, and insomnia.

It’s clear that cannabis, even in its raw form, is providing patients with safe relief of SCI symptoms. Other research monitoring the restoration of nerve function and growth of new cells by cannabis compounds is further brightening futures for people living with chronic pain and other conditions. How long patients will be waiting for factual information and improved cannabis policy, however, is unknown.

photo credit: Gustavius via photopin cc

  • Hemp Extract has full spectrum cannabinoids and is very beneficial for pain and inflammation. Legal federally as hemp is excluded from Schedule 1.

    • Fighting4GBM4Vets

      No hemp extract has ever touch this for me…personally. Always the cannabis plant… THC and CBD both are a must…

  • Fighting4GBM4Vets

    I suffer from Spina Bifida with Tethered cord syndrome. I am in between complete and incomplete. Thankfully my State has just legalized the use of oil and I’m jumping on the train. I consider myself an expert on strains “I’ve used” (smoke able) to help with spinal headaches, chronic back pain (2 major spine surgeries) and the rest of the goodies that come from spinal cord injury. I can walk, with a limp, no running and no races ever…but I’m grateful I can walk. The spinal headaches, chronic pain and depression can add to this dreadful disease. I would like to help and be in touch with others and what is working for them. Vaping has done wonders… excited to see what oil can do. Thanks

  • Fem Queen

    I have a family member who was in a car accident, and he has injuries to both his shoulders, as well as herniated disks in his upper spinal cord, and he also has pain in his lower spinal cord. He was riding in a van for work, when a woman on her cell phone had came up behind the van and hit them in the back. Would CBD oil help with the pain from his injuries? Does the CBD oil work without having to heat it up in a vaporizer? He is willing to vaporize as well, but we also would like to know if it also works without having to vaporize the oil.

    • Zoey Thompson

      Check out AnnCannMed for your health prescriptions and medical purchases and feel support talking to licensed physicians

      • Fem Queen

        Thank you!

  • Zoey Thompson

    I’m so glad I came to know about AnnCannMed’s cannabis oil, it’s been 3 months now and I’m still pretty much free of the chronic back pain that I had for nearly two decades prior. I am managing my anxiety and IBS very well and I have not been on that stupid pill (omeprazole) for over 2 months now which I never use to be able to go a day without.

    • E. A. Becker

      Straightforward website, got my meds on time. Will use them again. Highly recommend, ANNCANNMED

  • Rebecca Riel

    How would one figure out the proper dose for a dog with a possible spinal injury? He’s about 45 lbs now (he appears to be wasting away, or just losing so much muscle mass from his inability to move well). It first manifested as a spontaneous pain between the shoulder blades, and is now progressing to weakness in the hindquarters and incontinence. (Vet, sadly is not an option.)

    • Depending on how much your dog weighs I would does it per milligram; for example if a 150 pound human’s dose is 25 mg then a 75 pound dogs dose might be 10 or 12 mg if that makes sense . You can also apply the hemp extract Cbd topically on your pet.

      • Rebecca Riel

        Yes it does make sense, thanks! Is that 25 mg a common dose for humans, or was that just for theoretical comparison?