Medical Marijuana and Herniated Discs
Back pain is quite prevalent, with as many as 90 percent of people experiencing it at some point in their lives. It’s a familiar reason for missed work. It’s also the second most common reason people visit their primary care doctor, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
One chief cause of back pain is a herniated disc. These can be repetitive and disabling, particularly for individuals who do a lot of heavy lifting. Aside from spinal surgery, pain injections and medications, including addictive opioids, current treatment is limited, and many don’t get the results they’re looking for. Fortunately, medical marijuana promises relief.
What Are Herniated Discs?
The vertebrae in your backbone form your spinal column. Between your vertebrae, you have round, flat cushioning pads called intervertebral discs, which work like shock absorbers. Every one of these discs has a gel-like, soft center known as the nucleus pulposus.
Whether you call it a ruptured disc, slipped disc or herniated disc, this painful condition occurs when pressure below or above the vertebrae forces part or all of the nucleus pulposus through a torn or weakened part of your annulus. You experience pain because the herniated nucleus pulposus is pressing on the nerves located near your disc.
While a herniated disc occurs more often in the lower area of your spine, it can also happen in your thoracic spine or cervical spine. Herniated discs are the most common reasons for neckaches and back, neck or leg pain.
Kids and young adults have high water content in their discs. When you get older, this disc water content decreases, making your discs less flexible. As your discs start shrinking, it creates narrower spaces between your vertebrae. Certain factors may weaken your disc, including:
- Improper lifting
- Repetitive strenuous activities
- Excessive body weight, which adds stress to the discs in your lower back
- Sudden pressure
To identify what’s causing your pain, doctors diagnose two basic types of spinal disc issues. These are:
- Pinched nerve
- Disc pain
If you have a symptomatic herniated disc, there isn’t any pain with the disc, but instead, the leaking material from the inside of your disc is irritating or pinching a nerve nearby. With this, you experience radicular pain, such as pain to a nerve root. This pain could spread to other areas of your body, like down your arm from your neck or down your leg from your lower back. Sciatica is the term used to describe leg pain caused by a pinched nerve.
If you have a symptomatic degenerated disc causing leg or lower back pain, your disc space, or lack of it, is the pain source — often referred to as axial pain.
Other factors can also cause a herniated disc, such as:
- Repetitive stress
- Spinal trauma
- Tobacco use
- Poor nutrition
- Unhealthy body weight
Doctors use a combination of a physical exam, your medical history and testing to diagnose a herniated disc.
Types of Herniated Discs
Herniated discs types depend on their location in your spine. Three common types include:
- Cervical herniated disc — Cervical herniated discs occur in your neck region between your C1 and C7 vertebrae. Usually, they’re due to wear and tear when bad posture and pressure affect your neck. Trauma to your neck may also cause them.
- Lumbar herniated disc — Lumbar herniated discs occur between your L1 and L5 vertebrae in your lower back area. You carry the most pressure and weight in this area, and it’s more susceptible to injury as a result. Everyday wear and tear, repetitive stress and bad posture of your lower back can cause a lumbar herniated disc.
- Thoracic herniated disc — The least common of the three types is the thoracic herniated disc. It occurs between your T1 and T12 vertebrae in your middle back. Something like an extreme fall, car accident or another type of trauma can cause these herniated discs, since your ribs support the area of your spine where they occur, and they don’t tend to herniate by themselves.
History of Herniated Discs
Lumbar disc herniation description dates back to ancient times. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1700s when we understood herniated discs as a clinical entity. Even though surgeons performed spinal enchondroma surgeries in the beginning of the 20th century that could have been for herniated discs, you can trace modern discectomy surgery back to the 1930s with a pair of American surgeons, Joseph Barr and William Mixter.
From this date to the current times, our understanding of the natural history, pathophysiology and treatment of herniated discs has become and continues to grow more sophisticated.
Symptoms of Herniated Discs
Herniated discs tend to occur more in your lumbar spine or lower back. However, they can also occur in your cervical spine or neck. Common herniated disc symptoms include:
- Leg and arm pain — If you develop a herniated disc in your lower back, you tend to experience the most extreme pain in your thigh, buttocks and calf — sometimes in parts of your foot. When you experience one in your neck, you’ll feel the more intense pain in your arm and shoulder. Moving your spine in specific positions, sneezing or coughing all can cause the pain to shoot into your leg or arm.
- Weakness — The muscles that serve your affected nerves tend to get weak, impairing your ability to hold or lift items or causing you to stumble.
- Tingling or numbness — You may experience tingling or numbness in the area of your body your affected nerves serve.
It’s not unheard of to have a herniated disc without realizing it. Sometimes, the only way an individual knows they have one is if they show up on spinal images.
Effects of Herniated Discs
Your spinal cord separates into a group of long nerve roots, called the cauda equina, right below your waist that looks like the tail of a horse. Disc herniation hardly compresses the whole cauda equina. To avoid permanent paralysis or weakness, some individuals require emergency surgery.
Some complications warranting a trip to the doctor or emergency room include:
- Worsening symptoms — Numbness, weakness or pain could increase to a point where it interferes with normal activities or keeps you from performing them at all.
- Bowel or bladder dysfunction — You may have problems urinating or become incontinent even with a full bladder if you have cauda equina syndrome.
- Saddle anesthesia — You progressively lose sensation in the parts of your body that would touch a saddle — the back of your legs, inner thighs and area around your rectum.
In a study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, anxiety and mood disorders were more common in patients with cervical or lumbar disc herniation than in individuals with no herniation.
Also, patients who’ve had disc surgery have a higher risk of anxiety and depression than others. According to the study, clinicians should show more sensitivity towards psychological concerns in disc surgery patients. Mental health professional assistance and psychological assessment should be part of the hospital stay and the recovery and rehabilitation period, if possible.
Herniated Disc Statistics
Herniated disc statistics, according to the National Institutes of Health, include:
- Individuals aged 30 to 50 years old have the highest prevalence of herniated discs.
- Males develop herniated discs twice as often as women.
- After six weeks, around 10 percent of an individual’s pain is sufficient enough to consider surgery.
Current Treatments Available for Herniated Discs and Their Side Effects
While performing your physical examination, your physician will check for tenderness in your back. They’ll have you lie flat while moving your legs in different positions. This exercise helps them figure out what’s causing your pain. They may conduct a neurological examination to check your:
- Muscle strength
- Ability to feel pinpricks, light touches or vibration
- Walking ability
In many herniated disc cases, all the doctor needs to make a diagnosis is your medical history and a physical exam. If they suspect you have another condition or if they need to see your affected nerves, they’ll order some imaging tests, including:
- CT scan — A machine takes X-rays in various directions and combines them, creating cross-sectional photos of your spinal column and surrounding structures.
- X-rays — While these can’t detect the herniated discs, doctors might perform them to rule out other back pain causes like a tumor, broken bone, infection or spinal misalignment.
- Myelogram — The doctor injects a dye into your spinal fluid and takes X-rays to show any nerve or spinal cord pressure caused by herniated discs.
- MRI — The doctor uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create photos of the internal structures of your body. They can use the test to verify where your herniated disc is and the nerves it’s affecting.
Doctors may start off with conservative treatment, where you avoid painful positions and follow a pain-medication and exercise regimen.
Your physician may recommend you take one or more types of medications to relieve your herniated disc symptoms. These include:
- Over-the-counter medications — Your doctor may recommend OTC pain medications at first, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Side effects of these types of pain medications may include heartburn, stomach pain or ulcers, ringing in ears, tendency to bleed more, high blood pressure and more.
- Prescription drugs — If OTC pain medications aren’t effective, your doctor may prescribe narcotics like codeine, OxyContin or Vicodin. Side effects of these drugs include nausea, vomiting, sedation, physical dependence and more. If you become addicted to opioids, you risk overdosing, which could lead to your death.
- Anticonvulsants — Anticonvulsants may help treat radiating nerve pain caused by herniated discs. Side effects of these are fatigue, nausea, drowsiness, weight gain and more.
- Muscle relaxants — Another option is muscle relaxers to help with muscle spasms. Dizziness, sedation and drowsiness are common side effects.
- Cortisone injections — You may receive cortisone injections directly into the area of your spinal nerves to help decrease inflammation and swelling. Side effects may include mood changes, insomnia, nausea, headache and more.
If your pain still hasn’t subsided after a few weeks, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, where you’ll learn exercises and positions to help reduce herniated disc pain.
Not many people require surgery for herniated discs, but some do. You may require surgery, such as a discectomy, lumbar decompression surgery or fusion, if your symptoms haven’t improved after six weeks with conservative treatments. Surgical options include minimally invasive and open surgeries.
Some complementary and alternative treatments have eased chronic back pain in some patients, including the following:
- Chiropractic therapy
How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Herniated Discs
Cannabis can be an effective back pain treatment, according to studies published in journals like Current Neuropharmacology. The main components of cannabis, CBD and THC, have documentation regarding their anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
Medical weed also has anti-spasm, anti-anxiety and sedating effects beneficial for back pain treatment. Cannabinoids, in particular, are useful in treating nerve injury pain.
A PLoS One-published study shows CBD administration, which is non-psychoactive and well-known for its potential therapeutic benefits like pain reduction and inflammation, could be helpful in decreasing intervertebral disc degeneration damage.
Herniated discs seem to have an inflammation association. While anti-inflammatory medications weren’t able to suppress the inflammation, another study showed CBD in marijuana and herniated discs treatment just might help protect against deterioration.
What Side Effects and Symptoms of Herniated Discs Can Medical Marijuana Treat?
A lot of patients report marijuana and herniated disc treatment treated their back pain as well as other related symptoms. In fact, they say it works better at providing symptom relief than pharmaceuticals with substantially fewer side effects. Medical pot might also effectively treat related symptoms of insomnia, muscle spasms, depression and anxiety.
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Herniated Disc Symptoms and Side Effects
Good cannabis strains for herniated discs are those that tackle not just the pain associated with herniated discs, but the other symptoms as well, such as the inflammation, insomnia, depression and more.
They also should help tackle some of the negative side effects of the treatments for herniated discs, like nausea, lack of appetite, mood changes, fatigue and more.
Here is a list of strains of cannabis for herniated discs you can try or talk to your medical marijuana or budtender about.
- BC Sweet Tooth (Indica): Pain, insomnia and depression
- LA Woman (hybrid): Anxiety, depression, pain and stress
- Green Haze (Sativa): Depression, fatigue, lack of appetite, stress, pain and nausea
- Blueberry Nuken (Indica): Insomnia, nausea, lack of appetite, pain and stress
- Midnight (hybrid): Anxiety, depression, inflammation, pain, stress and muscle spasms
- Dutch Dragon (Sativa): Depression, fatigue, inflammation and stress
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use for the Side Effects and Symptoms of Herniated Discs
Use cannabis and herniated discs treatment internally or topically for symptom relief. Common methods of delivery include:
- Inhalation (vaporizing or smoking)
- Raw juice
Take the Next Step in Obtaining Medical Marijuana for Herniated Discs
Learning about medical marijuana and herniated discs is your first step to getting relief. Visit our MarijuanaDoctors.com website to find a cannabis doctor, get your recommendation and begin your medical weed treatment right away. Professionals are standing by to help you finally find relief from herniated discs.
Chronic pain is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in many states, so book your appointment today.