Science shows us how cannabis can play a huge role in spinal cord injuries. Imagine for one moment your whole world was turned upside down. Spinal cord injuries are one of the most devastating types of injuries someone can experience. While relatively uncommon, spinal cord injuries cause temporary or permanent loss of strength, sensation, and function below the site of injury. It’s estimated there are over 300,000 people living with SCI in the United States alone. Each year there are over 12,000 cases reported. Males have the highest rate of injury at over 80%.
Why are Spinal Cord Injuries so Traumatic For The Person?
A broken arm or fractured leg is no-doubt painful. Not to mention inconvenient. However, a blow to the spinal cord is life threatening. The spinal cord is an important part of the central nervous system. It controls and coordinates activities within the body. The primary job of the spinal cord is to communicate messages (neurons) between the brain and body. This in-turn allows us to move and feel sensations.
When a break or fracture occurs, this ability is compromised. Depending on the severity of trauma, a spinal cord injury can be complete or incomplete. With a complete SCI, the spinal cord cannot send signals below the level of injury. As a result, paralysis occurs. The height of the injury also influences the severity. The higher up the vertebrae the injury occurs, the worse the damage. For example, a blow to the neck (in the cervical region) may result in quadriplegia. Trauma in the middle of the back (in the thoracic region) may result in paraplegia.
Marijuana Helps Pain Management
Pain is a serious issue plaguing those with SCIs. Individuals with a spinal cord injury can experience chronic pain for months and even years to come after their initial injury. Pain can occur in areas where there is sensation as well as those without.
This can lead to a negative impact on quality of life. Those in severe pain may even be unable to carry out daily activities. Cannabis is a well-known treatment for chronic pain.
Researchers have now discovered that cannabinoids activate specific receptors located throughout the body, particularly those within the central nervous system. Cannabis is an effective pain reliever because it regulates pain perception – even for those with spinal cord injuries.
One study revealed that cannabis combined with massages was the most effective pain relief for spinal cord injury patients. While opioids initially produced the greatest degree of pain relief, patients reported they were unlikely to continue using them.
In fact, the relief from alternative treatments (such as massages) was reported to last for days! Unlike opioids and other pain pills, which tended to only last a few minutes or a few hours at best.
Marijuana Stimulates a Neuroprotective Response
Astonishingly, researchers now believe cannabis stimulates a neuroprotective response. The findings from one study revealed the role that our endocannabinoid system plays in spinal health:
“Early endogenous activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors after spinal cord injury is a protective response involved in spontaneous recovery.”
The CB1 and CB2 receptors are essential components of the mammalian endocannabinoid system. They are like a keyhole and the cannabinoids are the key. This system is responsible for the health and balance of just about every process in our body, and although the body produces its own cannabinoids, it often times needs a supplementary boost, which is what we get from cannabis.
The fact that cannabinoid therapy can trigger a neuroprotective response, is huge for spinal cord injuries.
If the spinal cord is able to even partially recover from trauma, the impact is life-changing. The extent of trauma can mean the difference between some dexterity and no dexterity.
Matijuana Reduces Muscle Spasticity
When a spinal cord injury occurs, the flow of nerve messages is interrupted. As a result, the messages are not always able to reach the reflex control center of the brain.
The spinal cord attempts to moderate the body’s response. However, the spinal cord is not as efficient as the brain. Signals that are sent back often result in an overactive or spastic muscle response. These responses can range from mild tremors to violent movements. Some spasms are so severe they can even knock someone out of their wheelchair.
For individuals with a spinal cord injury, these spasms can be as frustrating as they are dangerous.
In 1839 Dr. William O’Shaughnessy recorded that cannabis extracts effectively controlled spasticity. Later, Dr. J Reynolds in 1890 also confirmed the effectiveness of cannabis for muscle spasms in his report in The Lancet on cannabis alcohol extracts.
One study from the University of Arizona revealed that more than 70% of people suffering from muscles spasms were able to find relief using cannabis. While the patients in the study were suffering from multiple sclerosis rather than a spinal cord injury, the results are no less astounding. Especially given the countless stories and anecdotal evidence from spinal cord patients.
Marijuana Improves Motor Function
Lifting the restrictions on cannabis research and access for patients is key to acheiving even greater progress with this plant. Loss of motor function is a hallmark characteristic of a spinal cord injury. Trauma to the spine often results in a loss of function.
While damage to the spinal cord injury is typically permanent, a study revealed that a compound in the cannabis plant improved mobility in rats with spinal cord injuries. Investigators at the University of Sao Paul in Brazil examined the impact of CBD on motor function. During the study, the animals received injections of both a placebo and CBD. These injections were done 3 hours after surgery and daily for six days after surgery.
At the end of the study, researchers reported:
“Cannabidiol improved locomotor functional recovery and reduced injury extent, suggesting that it could be useful in the treatment of spinal cord lesions.”
The study has yet to be replicated on humans. Nevertheless, the research suggests cannabis could have a profound impact on motor sensory and functioning in spinal cord injury patients. Particularly, if ingested shortly after the injury takes place.
However, our knowledge in this space is limited. Because cannabis remains a schedule 1 drug, it is extraordinarily difficulty to perform research. Let alone find sufficient funding. Meanwhile hundreds and thousands of individuals suffering from spinal cord injuries are left with limited options. So far we know that not only can it alleviate side-effects from injury but restore functioning as well. For spinal cord injury patients, this difference can mean life or death.