Spinal cord disease is any condition affecting the spinal cord developing outside of injury. There are many different examples of these diseases. Some of them are present from birth while others develop much later in life.
Conditions grouped under the category “spinal cord disease” include multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis and spondylosis, and spina bifida. Spinal cord injuries may present with many of the same symptoms, but they’re caused by trauma and aren’t included in the same category.
Treatment options for spinal cord disease vary widely. They include treatment with painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids, to bracing and surgery. The ineffectiveness of some treatments has left many patients looking for better alternatives. The ongoing opioid crisis in Canada has also raised concerns about the use of opioids in the treatment of chronic pain and disease.
Could medical cannabis be one of the alternatives for the treatment of pain in patients with spinal cord disease?
Variation among Patients
The first thing to note is the wide degree of variation among patients with spinal cord disease. Even patients who have a similar disease may have different underlying causes. Spinal stenosis, for example, is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. It can be caused by a number of different health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tumours, scoliosis, and others. The area of the spine affected can also vary among patients.
A patient with rheumatoid arthritis as the underlying condition will need a different treatment regimen from a patient who presents with multiple sclerosis. Some spinal cord diseases, however, do not present with another underlying condition. Spina bifida, a condition present from birth, isn’t usually associated with other underlying conditions.
What Can Medical Cannabis Do?
The question researchers have asked themselves is what role medical cannabis and other cannabinoid products could play in helping to treat the symptoms of spinal cord disease among this wide array of patients. Although there are different underlying causes and different presentations, most spinal cord diseases share some common symptoms. Pain and spasticity are two of the most common.
The research evidence for medical cannabis in the treatment of almost any health condition is still growing, and the picture isn’t quite clear yet. Nonetheless, cannabis has shown some promise in helping patients with spinal cord disease manage their symptoms more effectively.
Some research indicates medical cannabis appears to be able to relieve spasticity. A trial with 189 multiple sclerosis patients found most of the subjects achieved a 30 percent or greater benefit in reducing spasticity when using medical cannabis.
Treatment for Pain
There has also been a fair amount of research about cannabis’s use as a potential treatment for pain conditions. Although more research is still needed in this area, the results appear promising. Many patients with a variety of different conditions have reported reduced pain and reduced pain intensity as a result of using medical marijuana or another cannabinoid-based product.
Since pain is one of the most common symptoms of spinal cord disease, it seems plausible cannabis could provide another pain-relief treatment option for patients in the future. It could be a safer alternative to opioids and even NSAIDs.
Research on Spinal Cord Injury
Although the two are not the same, spinal cord injury shares some similarities with spinal cord disease. More research has been conducted on the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for those with spinal cord injury. Again, the results are promising, but more research is indicated.
If medical cannabis is useful in helping with the treatment of pain in patients with spinal cord injury, it’s highly likely it could also have some benefits for those living with spinal cord disease. Future research will reveal more about medical cannabis’s role in treating any number of conditions, including spinal cord disease.