Written by Matthew Janz
One morning I was abruptly awoken to agonizing pain in my lower spine, and had to crawl to my roommate's door to have him take me to the ER. Turns out I had suffered an injury when I was lifting weights that led to two compression fractures, two bulging discs, and severe tension in my lumbar.
When I went to my primary physician, her recommendation was a cocktail of prescription painkillers with the loose advice to “take these as needed.” The careless offering of potentially dangerous drugs didn’t sit right with me. I opted to seek an alternative for pain management and ultimately found medical marijuana.
I want to help others who are experiencing back/spinal injury related pain in specific understand the benefits of utilizing medical marijuana to provide them with relief, which brings us here.
Chronic pain is the most reported qualifying condition for medical marijuana programs across the country (an estimated 64.2% amongst states who release data). Not only are a large portion of medical marijuana patients medicating for chronic pain, they are also lowering prescription pain medication use, and in some cases dropping prescription pain medication altogether.
In 2013, medical marijuana was able to cut Medicare costs by $165 million, due to the decrease in prescription medication use. We are also seeing prescription drug use drop in states which have adopted some form of a medical marijuana program. It’s important to note that there is a potential risk of opioid misuse and it’s efficacy overall is questionable:
“More than 14,000 Americans died in 2014 from unintentional overdose of prescription opioids, making this the leading cause of death among younger individuals in many states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
“The United States constitutes less than 5 percent of the world’s population, and we consume 80 percent of the world’s opioid supply.”
“The Institute of Medicine estimates chronic pain affects 100 million Americans at an annual cost of $600 billion.”
There is surmounting evidence that medical marijuana is a safe, and efficient alternative for relieving back pain/spinal injury related pain. “A recent research project at the University of Colorado’s Spine Center looked at 200 patients suffering from degenerative disc problems and other back pains. Of the participants that consumed marijuana, 89% said “it greatly or moderately relieved their pain, and 81% said it worked as well as or better than narcotic painkillers.” Participants in the study that consumed marijuana used it “no more than one or two times a day.”
How it works.
We wrote a much more detailed blog on cannabinoids and how they work, but in essence our body has an endocannabinoid system which the various cannabinoids in cannabis aide in homeostasis. There are over 80 cannabinoids which have varying effects ranging from pain reduction to inflammation reduction. For back pain, we are concerned with a few symptoms to manage: chronic pain, inflammation, nerve damage, and tension.
While marijuana affects everyone differently, we can take a look into some of the common reported strains which help alleviate back pain and pain stemming from spinal injuries. I’m recommending these from personal experience, but I highly suggest trying multiple strains and finding which one works best for you. I would also suggest trying various forms of the strain, such as concentrates and edibles. Keep a log and document the effects from your dosing, and continually work towards an appropriate level of medication. And as always, make sure you are medicating responsibly and have consulted with your physician to understand the root cause of your back pain.
General back pain.
For generalized back pain, heavy indica strains often provide the strong body high which is known to curb pain. This will be a common theme throughout the recommended strains, but I also strongly recommend heavy CBD strains. CBD is known to provide the pain relieving qualities of medical marijuana, but without the psychoactive effects (the high). Utilizing CBD allows for retention of functionality, instead of subduing to the often couch locking effects of indica strains. As far as indica strains goes, I’d recommend 9 Pound Hammer, Blackberry Kush, and LA OG. For CBD strains, I would recommend ACDC, Harlequin, and Cannatonic.
Back pain often stems from severe inflammation, especially in the lower back. Many cases of inflammation in the back are related to Autoimmune Disorders, so I recommend being evaluated by your physician to find the root cause of the inflammation. For back pain dealing with inflammation, I again recommend indica strains, but I also recommend indica-dominant hybrids. Indica-dominant hybrids are great options for alleviating tension. CBD strains would again be a fantastic alternative for someone seeking a non-psychoactive medication. For the indica and indica-dominant hybrid strains, I’d recommend Star Killer (hybrid), Whitewalker(indica), and Berry White (hybrid). For CBD strains, I’d recommend Pennywise, Canna-Tsu, and Ringo’s Gift.
Pain stemming from nerve damage can be some of the most debilitating and disruptive pain to manage. Again, I always recommend speaking to your physician to get a proper diagnosis on what is causing your back pain. While indicas are always a great way to alleviate pain, CBD is specifically known for its neuropathic pain relief. For this reason, I highly recommend seeking CBD heavy strains to manage back pain due to nerve damage. I’d recommend Ringo’s Gift, specifically in concentrate form. I had a pinched nerve, and on one night had intense shooting pain that almost sent me to the ER. I took a dab (hit) of Ringo’s Gift in concentrate form, and my pain went away almost instantaneously. I’d also recommend Cannatonic, ACDC, and Remedy.
Some patients don’t deal with tremendous amounts of back pain, but have tension built up from stress on the back. For back pain dealing with tension, I would recommend indica-dominant hybrids. The reason I recommend the hybrids versus a pure indica is due to the balanced effects which often alleviate stress and tension. I’d recommend Thin Mint Cookies, Skywalker, and Lavender.
I hope that I was able to shed some light on medicating with cannabis for back pain, and that my personal stories will help guide patients dealing with similar circumstances in the right direction. I have to reiterate the importance of seeking consultation from your physician concerning your back pain to understand the full scope and origin of your pain. You want to make sure you are seeking appropriate medication for the type of back pain you are dealing with, and always keep a log to monitor your dosing.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly at Matt@Apothecariumlv.com.
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