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Medical Marijuana and Back Pain

marijuana for back pain

Back pain is such a common complaint that almost everyone in the United States will experience it at least once during their lives. However, many people have such debilitating back pain that it significantly interferes with their day-to-day lives. In the United States, more than 100 million workdays are lost each year because of back pain.

Due to its ability to help with pain and inflammation, health professionals are increasingly using medical marijuana for back pain as a treatment option for patients.

What Is Back Pain?

Back pain is a problem that many people are all-too-familiar with. It can range from a constant, dull ache to a sharp, sudden pain that incapacitates you. A fall, an accident or improperly lifting heavy objects can bring on back pain suddenly, or you can develop it gradually as your spine changes with your age.

Structural problems can cause back pain including:

  • Sciatica
  • Ruptured discs
  • Arthritis
  • Bulging discs
  • Osteoporosis
  • Abnormal spine curvature

No matter how your back pain came about, you know how it feels and how it can affect daily living. Back pain is among the common reasons people seek medical care or self-treat.

Types of Back Pain

When considering your treatment options for your back pain, it can be helpful to learn what the major types are.

Common types of back pain include:

Mechanical Pain

Mechanical pain, also called axial pain, is the most common cause of pain in your lower back. The pain is mainly from your ligaments, muscles, bones in your spine and surrounding it and joints (sacroiliac joints, facet joints). Mechanical pain is often localized to your buttocks, lower back or the top of your legs.

lower back pain

Loading your spine influences this pain and different motions can change how it feels such as:

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Twisting
  • Activity
  • Resting

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain occurs when your spinal nerve root becomes inflamed or impinged. The pain might include pain radiating down into your leg or buttock, or it may follow a particular nerve root pattern. You'll experience a distinct sensation that's an electric, sharp and burning type of pain, sometimes accompanied by weakness or numbness. Chances are you'll feel it on only one side of your body.

Medical professionals categorize back pain into these types of pain:

Nociceptive Pain 

Your body has nociceptors, also known as sensors, that spot stimuli that are potentially harmful. The receptors alert you when you have an injury to your tendons, ligaments, muscles, joints, skin, bones or other organs. Your central nervous system and brain receive pain signals that result in you feeling pain. 

Many describe the nociceptive pain as a deep throbbing, gnawing, aching or soreness. Some back pain-related nociceptive pain examples might include:

  • Back pain after a fall or car accident
  • Back pain after trauma
  • Arthritis pain
  • Pain after back surgery

As your injury heals, the nociceptive pain eases.

Neuropathy 

Neuropathy, also known as neuropathic pain, is pain caused by injury or damage to your nerve tissue. Nerve damage can occur from an injury or infection elsewhere in your body. Once you have damage, your nerves continue sending pain signals even after the injury heals. 

Back-related neuropathic pain causes the symptom known as sciatica. Sciatica occurs when the nerve root in your lower back is pressed upon or compressed, triggering numbness and pain along your sciatic nerve that stretches from your feet to your buttocks. You may also have pain that travels down your arm from your spine and persisting pain following a back surgery.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Both nociceptive and neuropathic pain can be broken down even further into acute and chronic pain. Both differ significantly in function and form.

Acute pain falls under the umbrella of nociceptive pain. With acute pain, the level of your tissue damage level determines your pain severity. Acute pain is a sign of diseased or injured tissue. Your body has a type of protective reflex for avoiding pain like this. Once healed, your pain dissipates.

Chronic pain doesn't have a protective reflex or any other biological function that's helpful. Instead, your nerves continue sending pain signals even after the initial tissue damage heals. Chronic pain falls under the umbrella of neuropathy pain.

History of Back Pain

Back pain has affected people throughout recorded history. How back pain is understood and managed has changed, however. In the nineteenth century, two central beliefs formed the basis of the modern approach practitioners’ use today for back pain:

  • The injury causes back pain
  • The back pain came from your spine

Researchers classified back pain as a rheumatic disorder. It was during this time that doctors began considering and treating back pain and sciatica together. The new therapeutic rest orthopedic principle increasingly dominated their management of this type of back pain. In the late nineteenth century, backache began to be considered a chronic disability. This only escalated following World War II.

Effects of Back Pain

Back pain produces a range of symptoms. The pain can be mild and only slightly annoying, or it can be so severe as to be debilitating. Your onset of back pain can appear suddenly, or begin slowly and get worse over time gradually — sometimes coming and going. The effects of your back pain effects can be both physical and mental.

Physical Effects of Back Pain

You may experience symptoms in a variety of ways, depending on what is causing your back pain. You may, for instance, experience:

  • Achy or dull pain localized to your low back.
  • Burning or stinging pain that may or may not include sciatica that moves from your lower back to the back of your thighs, even into your feet.
  • Tightness and muscle spasms in your hips, lower back and pelvis.
  • Worsened pain after prolonged standing or sitting.
  • Trouble walking, standing up straight or going from a standing position to a sitting position.

Mental Effects of Back Pain

When your back pain becomes chronic, it may also impact your mood and emotions. You might blame everything on your backache, claiming that everything would be better if you didn't have pain in your back.

Chronic pain can interfere with your daily life and activities. It can make it difficult to remember things or concentrate. It can affect your sleep or your appetite.

When you're in constant pain, you may worry you won't be able to perform your daily routine or go to work. All this builds stress, making it understandable why some people get irritable, depressed and anxious.

People with chronic back pain also often struggle with depression. Those with chronic pain are much more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression or major depression. Depression like this is much more than feeling "blue" or normal sadness and is a common psychological effect of constant back pain.

Back Pain Statistics

Statistics on back pain reveal how common the condition is and its impact on individuals and society as a whole.

back pain stats

The American Chiropractic Association reports:

  • At any given time, around 31 million people in the U.S. are suffering from lower back pain.
  • Each year, a half of all working Americans say they're experiencing back pain symptoms.
  • Around 80 percent of the population at some point in their lives will experience back pain, according to experts.

The Bone and Joint Initiative reveals:

  • The annual combined cost of lost wages due to back pain and cost for treatment in the U.S. is approximately $253 billion.
  • Chronic back pain limits daily living activities for around 8.4 million individuals.
  • Around nine percent of all emergency department and hospital visits receive a neck or back pain diagnosis.

Current Treatments Available for Back Pain and Their Side Effects

After your doctor does a thorough review, he'll likely give you an idea of what's causing your back pain and other associated symptoms as well as discuss your treatment options with you. Some treatments your doctor might recommend include:

Back Surgery

If conservative treatments don't work, and your pain persists, back surgery could be an option. There are several different types of back surgery.

  • Laminectomy: Laminectomy involves your surgeon removing the bone that overlies your spinal canal. This procedure expands your spinal canal and relieves spinal stenosis-related nerve pressure.
  • Discectomy: The surgeon removes the herniated portion of the disc that's irritating your nerve and causing inflammation. They’ll either remove part or all of the back part of your vertebra to get to the ruptured disc.
  • Artificial discs: The implantation of artificial discs is a spinal fusion alternative treatment for painful movement between your two vertebrae caused by an injured or degenerated disc. Most people, however, can’t receive this newer treatment option.
  • Spinal fusion: The surgeon uses this treatment to connect two or more of your spine bones permanently. It helps ease your pain by providing a spinal fracture with stability. It sometimes helps ease painful motion between your vertebrae caused by an injured or degenerated disc causes.

Before agreeing to back surgery, you may want to consult with a qualified spine specialist for a second opinion. Spine surgeons may have differing opinions about the type of surgery you need, when you need the operation and whether your spinal condition even requires a surgical procedure. When experiencing pain in your back and legs, it may take more than one health professional to properly diagnose and treat you.

Chiropractic Treatment

Many people with back pain seek out a chiropractor for treatment. Chiropractors perform chiropractic adjustment by using a small instrument or their hands to apply a sudden, controlled force to your spinal joint. Also referred to as spinal manipulation, the goal of a chiropractic adjustment is to improve your body's physical function by correcting structural alignment.

When a trained or licensed professional performs chiropractic adjustment, it's a safe procedure. Although rare, serious complications with this treatment may include:

  • Cauda equina syndrome, or compression of your nerves in your lower spinal column.
  • Worsening of a disc herniation if you already have one, or a new herniated disc.
  • Vertebral artery dissection, a certain type of stroke, after neck manipulation.

 Before your chiropractic adjustment, there are no special preparations needed. 

Epidural Steroid Injections

Doctors have been giving epidural steroid injections for a long time to safely treat back, leg, arm and neck pain. Even though they're rare, serious complications of these injections may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Allergic reaction
  • Paralysis
  • Nerve damage
  • Infection

When an experienced healthcare provider performs the injection using fluoroscopic guidance, it minimizes the risk of any serious complications. Many patients tolerate this treatment well.

How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Back Pain

One alternative treatment for back pain is medical cannabis. Medical weed is increasingly becoming a preferred treatment for patients with chronic back pain. Although conventional treatments can be effective in treating the symptoms of back pain, they can also come with side effects like nausea, stomach upset, ulcers and gastric bleeding.

alternative medicine for back pain


Medical marijuana can be an alternative medicine for back pain, and it does not have the same side effects association with traditionally chronic pain medications.  Marijuana for back pain can help with your back pain in the following ways:

  • Reduce or eliminate your pain so you can live an active life.
  • Reduce or eliminate your need to take potentially dangerous or addictive medications
  • Reduce or eliminate your depression, insomnia and anxiety that may come with chronic pain
  • Give you peace of mind that you're using a natural treatment for your back pain.
  • Allow you to live a better quality of life.

A University of Colorado's Spine Center research project looked at 200 patients who had back pain or degenerative disc problems. Out of all the participants who used cannabis for back pain, 89 percent said it eased their pain moderately or greatly. Eighty-one percent claimed it worked as well as or even better than narcotic pain medication. They also stated that they didn't need to consume weed more than one or twice a day.

Which Symptoms of Back Pain Can Marijuana Treat?

As you know, back pain can present a wide range of symptoms. Medical pot has many medicinal properties to it that help alleviate a variety of different symptoms. For patients with back pain, marijuana can help relieve: 

Pain and Muscle Spasms 

With more states now allowing medical marijuana, researchers can begin to see more data about cannabis and its ability to treat pain. In a study, participants reported a 45 percent reduction in the intensity of their pain within 20 minutes of inhaling the treatment. Cannabis is particularly helpful for muscle spasm of the back. 

marijuana for pain

In many states, muscle spasms are an approved condition for the use of medical marijuana. North Dakota has approved chronic back pain as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana use.

Nausea and Vomiting

There is great value in marijuana's anti-emetic properties. Doctors typically prescribe pain patients with opioids or other narcotic drugs. The main side effects of these types of medications are nausea and vomiting.

Because cannabis and back pain treats both nausea and pain, many people attest to its widespread healing powers. And, this doesn't even include its strong mood enhancing properties that help with depression and suicidal thoughts. Because of these effects, many states have included nausea as a qualifying condition for marijuana.

Inflammation

Most back pain cases are due to inflammation causing degenerative disc disease. As you might already know, medical weed is an outstanding natural medicine for addressing inflammation and chronic pain. Therefore, it's no surprise that patients suffering from back pain due to degenerative disc disease find relief with this treatment as well.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Back Pain

According to Dr. Mike Hart, Head Physician at Marijuana for Trauma in Ontario, Canada, indica strains seem to help ease patients' pain better than hybrid or sativa strains because of the higher THC content.

However, when considering medical marijuana for back pain, the saying "less is more" holds true. Indica strains are more effective in lower doses and could worsen pain in higher doses. But there are some good quality sativa and hybrid strains that are worth trying for pain and your other back pain symptoms. Just remember to start slow and work your way up to higher doses if needed.

Below are some good strains of medical cannabis when you're struggling with back pain. 

  • Bubba Kush (Indica): Bubba Kush contains up to 22 percent THC and up to 0.1 percent CBD. It's good for lowering your stress and easing muscle tension.
  • Candyland (Sativa): With around 24 percent of THC and one percent of CBD and CBN, Candyland is a great strain to reduce pain and relieve your muscle tension. It also has stimulating effects, so it's good for fatigue.
  • Headband (Hybrid): Contains up to 27 percent THC, but lower CBD content of less than one percent. Headband eases pain and relaxes muscle strains. It lasts longer than other strains too.
  • OG Kush (Indica): Contains up to 23 percent THC and around one percent CBD. Works well for muscle spasms and relieving pain.
  • ACDC (Sativa): ACDC is high in CBD but low in THC. It contains up to 24 percent CBD and around 1.2 percent THC, making it great for reducing your pain without the psychoactive effects.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Back Pain Symptoms 

Use cannabis for back pain topically or internally to find relief. Some of the best methods of using medical weed include:

  • Inhalation (vaporizing or smoking): When you inhale medical weed you’ll find immediate relief, usually after only a minute or two).
  • Raw Juice: Juicing your medical pot works like a dietary supplement where you drink it a few times a day. It relieves your pain without the psychoactive effect because it's not heated.
  • Tinctures: You swallow tinctures or place them under your tongue. When you take them under your tongue, you'll get quick results, although as quickly as you will with smoking.
  • Edibles: You get a slower effect with edibles since they are essentially food and will have to make it through your digestive tract so your liver can metabolize it. However, you'll get longer lasting relief and typically a better psychotropic effect.
  • Oils: Marijuana oils offer you a completely different experience. You use oils in small doses and then scale them up. Oils deliver your body high concentrated amounts of cannabinoids.

If you’re suffering from debilitating back pain and would like to know more about medical cannabis and back pain, search for a dispensary or book an appointment with a qualified physician through MarijuanaDoctors.com and our find a doctor search today. Let us help improve your quality of life!

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals. If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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