As stated in a 2016 SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) Data Sheet put out by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), approximately 17,000 new spinal cord injury cases occur each year. It is estimated that up to 347,000 people live with a spinal cord injury today.
Suffering a spinal cord injury can have devastating effects on a person’s quality of life. Those affected with this harsh injury are often plagued with a range of symptoms from pain and muscle spasms, known as spasticity, to insomnia and depression.
The spinal cord is comprised of a bundle of nerves responsible for sending and receiving messages between the body and the brain. When injury and trauma result in damage to the spinal cord, most often a fracture or compression of the spinal cord occurs, which causes the axons of the cord to be crushed or destroyed. When the axons are damaged, permanent changes in strength, sensation, and functioning can occur below the site of the injury. There are two primary types of spinal cord injuries. The first is a complete spinal cord injury, which is a total loss of functioning and sensation below the injury. The second is an incomplete spinal cord injury, which results in partial functioning and sensation below the point of injury.
While there is currently no way to reverse spinal cord injuries, one focus of treatment is to control and manage symptoms to help patients live as comfortably as possible. Research into the use of medical marijuana to relieve symptoms from spinal cord injuries has shown significant promise. Cannabis and its cannabinoids have even demonstrated they can provide neuroprotective capabilities if administered shortly after a spinal cord injury. One study showing this neuroprotective response when certain cannabinoids were stimulated noted how it limited damage.
While studies continue to help learn more about the protective use of cannabinoids immediately following a spinal cord injury, those with existing injuries can find relief from pain and muscle spasticity using medical marijuana. Cannabis has been shown to be very effective for treating neuropathic pain associated with spinal cord injuries. One such study featured in The Journal of Pain showed positive results when evaluating vaporized cannabis in the treatment of pain from spinal cord injuries.
For treating spasticity in spinal cord injury sufferers, many studies have shown how both synthetic cannabinoids and those from cannabis offer relief from spasticity. One study from the Switzerland based Centre for Spinal Cord Injuries concluded that THC is an effective and safe drug in the treatment of spasticity.
Medical marijuana has also been shown to help treat other symptoms spinal cord injury patients experience such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. With continued research into how medical marijuana can benefit and treat patients with spinal cord injuries, and the positive results showing the effectiveness of cannabis on symptoms like neuropathic pain and spasticity, the advantages of marijuana continue to progress scientifically and in practice for those in need.