Medical Marijuana and Pain Associated with Whiplash
Whiplash can cause substantial pain and uncomfortable sensations. In most instances, whiplash is temporary and heals mainly on its own. In these cases, users might need medicine to reduce symptoms as the condition improves. Sometimes, whiplash may lead to other diagnoses that require other longer-term treatments. In both cases, medical cannabis may be a smart treatment option for whiplash.
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a relatively common injury typically caused by impact from behind while in a stationary position. It often occurs in automobile crashes, especially those in which one party is sitting still, such as at a red light, and the other party hits them from behind. This can cause violent, rapid movement of the head and neck forward and backward. The resulting injury is called whiplash.
Medical experts believe that the rear impact, such as from a car, can force the head and neck into a hyperextended backward position before going into a hyperflexed forward position. When this occurs, the lower cervical vertebra experience hyperextension while the upper cervical vertebrae experience a hyperflexed position. This movement forces the cervical spine into an abnormal S-shape, which may damage the soft tissues that hold together the cervical vertebrae.
Today, the term is most often used regarding car accidents. Other sources of impact, however, can also cause whiplash. Before cars were common, whiplash was frequently called “railway spine” when it occurred due to train accidents. Whiplash could also occur due to impact from another person or a heavy object.
Often, whiplash is a temporary condition that heals largely on its own. It’s not life-threatening, but it can cause significant discomfort. In some cases, whiplash can lead to chronic conditions often referred to as whiplash-associated disorders.
The primary symptoms of whiplash injury include headaches as well as pain in the neck, shoulders, jaw, back and arms. It can also cause substantial neck and shoulder stiffness and arm weakness. Other common effects include dizziness, fatigue, tinnitus and visual disturbances. These symptoms can last for days, weeks, months or become chronic.
Whiplash-associated disorders include insomnia, dependency on drugs used to treat whiplash pain, depression, anger, frustration, anxiety and stress. If the impact that caused the whiplash injury occurred during a particularly traumatic event, post-traumatic stress disorder may also coincide with whiplash.
What Are the Current Whiplash Treatments and Their Side Effects?
After an accident that may have caused whiplash, a patient will typically visit a hospital or doctor’s office to be checked for injuries. This visit will include a basic physical examination and may also include X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging study, commonly called an MRI. If the X-rays or MRI come back normal, but the pain continues, the patient may have to return for additional examinations.
If the doctor determines that the patient has sustained injuries due to whiplash, the doctor may take one or more of these treatment options.
- Neck Brace or Collar: The doctor may give the patient a neck brace or collar to provide additional neck support. It’s not recommended to use the brace for a long period, as it can weaken the neck muscles. Research also suggests that it may slow down the healing process.
- Ice: The doctor may also recommend the patients ice their neck to reduce pain and swelling. The patient will wrap ice in a thin towel and place it on their neck for 15 minutes every three to four hours for a few days.
- Moist Heat: The doctor may also suggest that the patient use moist heat on the neck but only after the swelling has gone down after a few days of icing it. The patient may apply moist heat with warm, wet towels or by taking a warm bath.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasound therapy may also help to reduce pain, relax the muscles, lower inflammation and increase circulation. An ultrasound machine works by sending high-frequency sound waves into the neck muscles and creating internal heat.
- Massage: Professional massage therapy for whiplash can also be an effective treatment. Massage can help to relax the neck muscles and reduce pain. It may also help to decrease scar tissue buildup and increase the range of motion.
- Over-the-Counter Painkillers: For more severe pain, a doctor may recommend that the patient take over-the-counter or prescription painkillers. Over-the-counter painkillers include NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. These medicines can have side effects, so it’s important to talk with your doctor before using them and read the information provided with the medicine.
- Prescription Painkillers: For the most severe or long-lasting pain, the doctor may prescribe prescription painkillers such as opioids. These medicines are powerful but can have harmful side-effects. Again, listen to the advice of your doctor and read all prescription information regarding these drugs. Opioids are addictive, and opioid addiction can be extremely harmful and even life-threatening.
- Muscle relaxants: Muscle relaxers can reduce muscle spasms and may also help you sleep. You should only take these if your doctor recommends them.
- Physical Therapy: The above treatments are mainly related to the acute symptoms of whiplash, largely pain. Once these initial symptoms have started to get better, you may need to undergo some light physical therapy. This therapy may begin with gentle stretching exercises. Eventually, this physical therapy can help get you back to the level you were at before the incident that caused your whiplash. Don’t push yourself too hard though and only do physical activity that a doctor approves you for. If you’re too active before your injury heals, you may delay the healing process. This could even cause permanent damage.
Another emerging treatment is medical marijuana. This approach has many potential benefits, but it can be useful to have an understanding of how marijuana works before trying it. Read on to find out about how medical marijuana can help with whiplash.
Why Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment?
Evidence that marijuana works to treat headaches dates back to at least the 19th century, though anecdotal evidence has existed for much longer. Dr. John Russell Reynolds wrote of using medical marijuana to treat headaches in 1868. In his treatment of two young women, he found no adverse side effects as it pertained to the headaches that he could link to medical marijuana. Both patients found rapid relief from their headaches under his treatment with what he called “Indian hemp.” He also had this to say about its safety as a treatment, “The bane of many opiates and sedatives is this, that the relief of the moment, the hour, or the day, is purchased at the expense of to-morrow’s [sic] misery. In no one case to which I have administered Indian hemp, have I witnessed any such results.”
In fact, research has shown that medical marijuana can treat some of the most painful chronic headaches one can suffer — migraines and cluster headaches. Among the best arguments for medical marijuana as a treatment for chronic whiplash-related headaches is the low rate of addiction and the lack of potential for fatal overdose. Unlike most other prescription pain relievers, marijuana cannot cause overdose.
There is also anecdotal and medical research that supports medical marijuana as a general pain reliever. A study by the University of California, San Francisco, also shows marijuana can increase the effect of opiates, leading to a lower necessary dose of the dangerous drugs. As of now, more research is needed in all of these uses for medical marijuana.
What Symptoms of Whiplash Can Marijuana Treat?
Medical marijuana can help relieve the pain of headaches, including chronic headache pain. The cannabinoid receptors in your body impact how you feel pain. When you use marijuana, the cannabinoids in marijuana find these receptors and attach to them to help reduce your pain. As mentioned earlier, cannabis may also be able to ease the pain of migraines and cluster headaches or even prevent them from starting.
Other pain produced by whiplash appears to be muscular, inflammatory and sometimes caused by neuropathy. Research with medical marijuana and multiple sclerosis shows that medical marijuana can help pain caused by neuropathy. It can also help relax muscles and reduce the number of muscle spasms a whiplash patient may have. Medical marijuana research on inflammatory illnesses such as Crohn’s disease shows that it can reduce inflammation.
Other studies have shown that medical marijuana can help people fall asleep and stay asleep. Whiplash sufferers who have difficulty sleeping after sustaining their injuries can benefit from this effect. Furthermore, sufferers whose pain is causing the sleep disturbance can benefit from the pain-relieving effects of marijuana and its ability to produce restful sleep.
The depression that sometimes occurs with whiplash can be a reaction to chronic pain and discomfort. There is some evidence that medical marijuana can treat depression even in those who do not have whiplash. However, coupled with the capacity to manage chronic pain that may be causing the depression, medical marijuana can provide multi-symptom relief from whiplash.
Marijuana may also help to relieve some of the other more mental and emotional symptoms associated with whiplash, such as anxiety, stress and frustration. Medical pot, especially strains high in cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, are especially effective in this area. Both scientific and anecdotal evidence suggest that cannabis may also be useful for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, that may occur along with whiplash.
Which Marijuana Strains Are Best for Whiplash?
The best strains of cannabis for whiplash depend on the symptoms you want to treat. A doctor or medical marijuana dispensary can help you choose the strain with the best mix of characteristics for your symptoms.
There are two main families of marijuana strains — indica and sativa. While both kinds can provide pain relief, indica strains have a stronger effect on the body, while sativa tends to have more of an impact on the mind. Indica typically relaxes the user, while sativa strains can be stimulating. You can also find hybrid strains, which balance the characteristics of indica and sativa.
The differences in the levels of the various cannabinoids, the compounds in weed that interact with the human body, in the two types of plant are what gives them their unique effects. Sativa strains typically have more THC, which produces more psychoactive effects, while indica tends to have more CBD, which is known for its body effects and the relaxation it creates.
Because CBD, and therefore indica, have more of a body effect and because relaxing muscles helps with whiplash pain, indica strains are often best for treating whiplash. However, hybrids sometimes have unique effects that can be beneficial for treating this injury. Sometimes, a sativa strain may even be the right choice for you. Again, a doctor or dispensary can help you choose the right strain for your symptoms.
Some of the best strains available for whiplash injury and associated disorders include:
- Afghan Kush: Afghan Kush is a strain that’s very clearly an indica. Its physical effects are ideal for soothing aches and pains.
- Blue Dream: Blue Dream will help you relax but also won’t make you too tired. Its perfect for taking during the day when you want to relax your muscles but also stay alert.
- White Widow: White Widow is a hybrid but is low in THC. It still produces some of the euphoric effects typical of THC but also has strong pain-relieving and headache-reducing properties.
- Granddaddy Purple: Granddaddy Purple provides high levels of pain relief and will also help you sleep. This strain is ideal for those with pain and trouble sleeping, but you’ll have to use it at night.
- Purple Urkle: Purple Urkle is another strain that will help you get restful sleep, which whiplash often prevents you from doing. This strain produces a calming, relaxing and even sedative effect that can also reduce headache pain.
- ACDC: ACDC has high amounts of both THC and CBD, which gives you a mix of the benefits of both kinds. The compounds also balance out each other’s side effects.
- Lemon Kush: Lemon Kush is another hybrid strain that’s useful for fighting headaches. It’s higher in THC but is still helpful if headache pain is your main symptom.
- Purple Haze: Purple Haze is a sativa strain and has high levels of THC. However, it offers a rather balanced effect and can help relieve headaches.
- Green Crack: Green Crack, a sativa strain, acts quickly to relieve headaches, If you want fast relief, this may be a good one to try.
What Are the Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use?
There are many different ways in which you can use medical marijuana, and these different methods can slightly alter the medicine’s effects. A doctor or dispensary personnel can give you advice on the best method for you. Experimentation is sometimes the best way to find the technique you like best. A few of the marijuana consumption methods you may want to try are:
- Smoking: The first method people typically think of related to using marijuana is smoking. To smoke medical weed, you simply roll it into a joint or place into a pipe or another device, then light it and inhale. A primary benefit of this approach is that the medicine takes effect almost immediately. It is also relatively straightforward, and the supplies you need to buy are inexpensive. The downside is that, while research is still underway on this subject, inhaling marijuana smoke may be harmful to your lungs. Smoking can also be harsh and uncomfortable for inexperienced users, so you should only inhale a small amount at a time at first. You may also end up smelling like smoke.
- Vaporizing: Vaporization is similar to smoking but there also some notable differences. Vaporizing don’t require as much heat as smoking. The vapor is often less harsh than smoke and doesn’t produce the smell that marijuana smoke does. There are many different kinds of vaporizers, and, while they are typically more expensive than the items you would buy for smoking, they are very convenient and easy to use. Typically, you just press a button and inhale.
- Edibles: If you don’t want to smoke or inhale vapor, you have other options, including edibles. You can now find edibles in many different forms, including cookies, candy, crackers and much more. Edibles are useful because you don’t have to worry about smoking, inhaling vapor or buying extra supplies. They also enable you to precisely measure the amount you take. When you ingest your marijuana, its effects also stretch out over a longer period. This also means, though, that they take some time to kick in — from half an hour to several hours. You also have to be especially careful about keeping your medicine away for children and pets.
- Topicals: Topicals are another easy way to use medical marijuana. You can apply these lotions and creams directly to the area where your pain is, and the marijuana in them will be absorbed through the skin. This is perfect for localized pain in the neck, head, shoulders or other areas caused by whiplash. Using topicals bypasses the psychoactive effects of pot, providing you only with the physical, pain-relieving effects.
What Are the Potential Side Effects?
The effects of marijuana can vary widely depending on the type of weed you use, the amount you use, how you use it and even the mindset you’re in when you take it. Some of these effects may be unwanted.
- Drowsiness: One common side effect is tiredness, although this can also be the desired effect if you are having trouble sleeping. To avoid problems associated with this, use your marijuana before bed or if you need to take it during the day, try a strain that has a more stimulating effect.
- Cloudy Thinking: Marijuana can sometimes cause clouded thinking. Because of this, you may need to avoid using it before tasks that require high mental clarity. You can also choose a strain with a good balance of THC and CBD, so that the cognitive effects of the THC and relaxing, sedative effects of the CBD balance each other out.
- Thirst and Dry Mouth: Marijuana often causes a feeling of increased thirst and a dry mouth. To alleviate this, simply make sure you have adequate amounts of water with you when using your medicine.
- Hunger: Hunger is another common effect. Try using your marijuana before a meal if you don’t want to get hungry and eat extra snacks.
- Anxiety, Uneasiness, and Paranoia: Sometimes, marijuana can cause anxiety and paranoia. This is typical of high-THC strains, so you may want to avoid these if you’re prone to anxiety. Smaller doses are also much less likely to cause this kind of reaction.
Always follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to side effects. They may warn you not to drive or operate machinery after using marijuana. The effects will vary from situation to situation, so always make sure to follow medical advice carefully.
Luckily, medical marijuana is not addictive like opioids are. Taking too much marijuana also won’t have severe health impacts like overdosing on some other medications might.
How Can You Find a Medical Marijuana Doctor and Dispensary?
If you are suffering from whiplash or whiplash-associated disorders, consider medical marijuana as a treatment. If you want to learn more, browse our website here at MarijuanaDoctors.com. We also provide a directory of medical marijuana doctors and a database of dispensaries to make it easy for you to find the resources you need.
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.