Although it’s been legal in Canada for some time now, the use of medical cannabis has met some resistance from medical professionals. One reason has been the lack of high-quality evidence for medical marijuana’s use in the treatment of medical conditions.
As more research is completed, attitudes are changing. More high-quality evidence will become available in the future as researchers continue to investigate the potential uses of medical cannabis.
Right now, one of the most common conditions for which patients receive medical marijuana authorization is spinal cord injuries. Current research seems to indicate cannabis has potential for assisting patients with symptom management.
What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury occurs when there’s trauma to the spinal cord. This can happen anywhere along the spine. There are many different causes.
Spinal cord injuries are different from spinal cord disease, which typically involves things such as a narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal cord disease can actually be a symptom of other medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. Spinal cord injury is sometimes classified as any abnormality in the spinal cord not resulting from disease.
What Are the Symptoms?
Spinal cord injuries have a range of different symptoms. For some patients, these injuries can be quite debilitating. An injury to the spinal cord can sometimes result in paralysis. Someone may experience partial paralysis as a result of an injury. Not all spinal cord injuries are this severe, however, and patients may experience a range of milder symptoms. Two of the most common are spasticity and pain. Even these can be debilitating to the patient.
Spinal cord injuries can also cause a loss of fine and gross motor skills. Pain and muscle spasms are often difficult to treat, and they may not respond to traditional treatments. Patients may experience depression and social isolation as a result of their medical condition.
The Research So Far
Some initial research was conducted in the 1970s and 1980s. These studies generally looked at patients who were already self-medicating with cannabis. Most of the results were based on patients’ self-reporting.
A preliminary controlled study of medical cannabis in the management of symptoms associated with spinal cord injuries was conducted in 2003. This initial study reported patients achieved pain relief superior to a group using a placebo. Some patients also reported improvements in spasticity, muscle spasms, and bladder control. This study also noted patients reported some negative side effects, including intoxication.
A few studies have been conducted since then. One study looked at the treatment of spasticity. This study used a double-blind procedure, meaning the patients in the experiment and control groups did not know which group they were assigned to and neither did the medical professionals administering treatment. Only the researchers knew.
The results showed improvement on the spasticity sum score for most patients. The study concluded THC, in particular, was helpful for the treatment of spasticity.
Research on Spinal Cord Disease
There is some overlap between research on the use of medical cannabis as a treatment for spinal cord disease and as a treatment for spinal cord injury. Although the two have different causes, they often affect patients in similar ways.
Research on spinal cord disease suggests medical cannabis could assist in the treatment of both pain and spasticity. In addition, there is research showing both THC and CBD can help relieve inflammation in the body.
What does this mean for you as a patient with a spinal cord injury? Medical cannabis may be an option you wish to consider if you’ve exhausted all other options. Medical cannabis can be added to a treatment plan to manage the symptoms of a spinal cord injury. As more research emerges, a clearer picture will demonstrate just how medical marijuana can assist those with spinal cord injuries.