Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Your spinal cord is a vital part of your central nervous system. So, when it gets damaged, you can deal with all sorts of symptoms related to muscle control and nerve sensation. Patients who injure their spinal cord should receive treatment as soon as possible to avoid long-term damage.
Some spinal cord injury patients use medical marijuana to relieve symptoms and protect against more damage. It preserves the myelin, which is the protective fatty tissue that shields your spinal cord. Medical cannabis also helps with pain, spasticity and sleep issues.
Wilsey et al. investigated cannabis’ ability to relieve pain in patients with spinal cord injury or disease. Patients with neuropathic pain often must take strong painkillers, like opioids. These pain medications can cause side effects the patient can’t handle, forcing them to stop taking them. Researchers need to find an alternative option.
The researchers in this study worked with patients dealing with spinal cord disease or injury. They measured pain scale scores of the patients before administering anything. Then, they asked the subjects to inhale a vaporized placebo or THC. Three hours later, the patients received a second dose.
Eighteen subjects felt pain relief on placebo, while 26 had reduced pain on a low dose of THC and 35 experienced relief on a higher dose of THC. Some of the participants had psychological side effects, but the pain reduction outweighed them.
Pooyania et al. examined nabilone’s effect on spasticity in patients with spinal cord injuries. Previous studies showed cannabis could help patients with spasticity symptoms, but none of it involved nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid medicine. So, they wanted to see if nabilone could work like cannabis to relieve neuropathic pain.
Twelve volunteers dealing with spinal cord injury-related spasticity participated in the study. For four weeks, they took either nabilone or a placebo. After a two-week break, they switched to the other kind of treatment. The team recorded the subjects’ spasticity symptoms after each phase.
When the patients took nabilone, their spasticity scores reduced significantly. Not only did the spasticity in their most affected areas decrease, but their spasticity in general improved. One participant who took the placebo dropped out of the study for an unrelated reason. Otherwise, the patients tolerated the side effects well.
Hagenbach et al. tested the ideal dosage of THC for spasticity in spinal cord injury patients. Researchers had only investigated cannabis as a spasticity treatment for multiple sclerosis patients, with spinal cord injuries causing spasticity for reasons other than multiple sclerosis needing more research.
To figure out an ideal dose before looking at efficacy, they split their research into three phases. In the first phase, 22 patients tried oral THC. The second phase involved eight patients taking rectal THC. During the third phase, six patients had oral THC, and seven patients received a placebo.
On average, the patients received 31 milligrams of oral THC and 43 milligrams of rectal THC. The researchers concluded that between 15 and 20 milligrams was the minimum dose to see benefits. When patients did see benefits from the medicine, they experienced a significant drop in spasticity scores.
We’re here to help you get the best treatment for your spinal cord injury. Learn more about spinal cord injuries and how to treat them with medical cannabis on our condition page. Or, find a marijuana-positive doctor who can conduct an exam and write a recommendation.