Cannabis and Back Pain

Medical cannabis provides a safe and effective option in the treatment of back pain for many patients.

Low back pain has a tremendous impact on our society – physically, psychologically, emotionally and economically.  Some experts estimate that the overall economic impact of low back pain may exceed $100 billion per year.

Low back pain affects approximately one in every four U.S. adults, and its incidence increases with age.  This is likely due to the aging process and a more sedentary lifestyle.  Additionally, many patients with back pain have experienced some sort of trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident or sports injury.

Specialized pain receptors are present in all of the structures of the spine and surrounding tissue.  So injury to any of these structures will be perceived as pain.  These structures include the vertebrae, the discs and joints between the vertebrae, nerve roots that connect the spinal cord to the rest of the body, ligaments, muscles and tendons.

Most cases of low back pain resolve within six weeks.  In about 10% of cases, however, back pain becomes chronic.  The most common causes of chronic back pain are a herniated or bulging disc; myofascial pain, which is pain in muscle and surrounding connective tissue; and spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the opening through which the spinal nerves pass.  In some cases, a cause for low back pain is never determined.
Chronic low back pain is commonly treated with a variety of prescription drugs.  These may include strong and addictive morphine-like pain killers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDS, muscle relaxants, and sleeping pills.  Although these common treatments may be helpful, they are often associated with unpleasant or unacceptable side effects that limit their usefulness.

More and more, medical cannabis is becoming the treatment of choice for many patients who suffer from chronic back pain.  In fact, due to its broad range of therapeutic actions, many back pain patients are able to eliminate some, or even all, of their prescription medications through the use of medical cannabis.  Side effects from medical cannabis are minimal, most commonly tiredness, dry mouth and increased appetite.

You may be wondering “how can an herbal medicine like cannabis do a better job than all those different prescription drugs in treating chronic low back pain?”

The answer lies in the fact that scientists have discovered over 100 unique molecules in the cannabis plant know as cannabinoids.  Examples of cannabinoids include psychoactive THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, as well as non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD, or cannabidiol.  These plant cannabinoids bind to natural receptors located throughout our bodies known as “endocannabinoid receptors.”  When plant cannabinoids bind to the body’s natural endocannabinoid receptors they exert a variety of positive medical benefits, including the relief of pain, inflammation, muscle spasm, insomnia and anxiety/depression.

In particular, the cannabinoid CBD may be particularly helpful in treating the muscle spasm, anxiety, insomnia, and the nerve pain components of low back pain syndromes.  CBD is more prominent in strains of cannabis known as Indica.

It is also important to know that there are many ways to use cannabis without smoking it.  These delivery methods include vaporization, tinctures, edible products and topical applications.

Low back pain has also been shown to benefit from a multi-disciplinary approach which may include treatments such as chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation and biofeedback.

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