In our series for cannabis newcomers, we’ve been exploring how patients have successfully used cannabis to treat a variety of conditions. In this article, we look at using cannabis to treat back pain, an incredibly common, debilitating condition. In fact, back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability, and 80% of adults will suffer from it at some point in their lifetime.
Whether the pain is from an injury, a genetic condition, inflammation, infection or something else, having back pain can turn everyday tasks into daunting challenges. For some, it can be a life-altering condition. Thankfully, both research and anecdotal accounts suggest that cannabis can help alleviate back pain.
Fifty-year-old Kat suffers from fibromyalgia and severe back pain. Over the past few years, Kat’s back pain has become debilitating.
"I'm to the point where I really can't hold down a regular job,” she explains. “I have to lay flat on the ground every couple of hours because my back hurts so bad.”
While working a regular job is no longer an option, Kat still needs to function for part-time work and her most important job: being a mom. She says that cannabis, specifically high cannabidiol (CBD) cannabis, has been crucial in managing her pain and helping her function.
“Cannabis has helped me in a lot of different ways,” she says. “I do lot of yoga and stretching. But if I can do that in combination with some CBD, it gives total relief… and then I’m better for a while.”
Kat is careful to mention that not all cannabis has had the same benefits for her. She says she’s tried different types of cannabis, and that high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) strains seemed to make her more anxious. ”When I found CBD, [I realized] that's the main thing that helps me,” she says. “CBD is where it's at for me.”
Another patient, Travis, says his back pain eased significantly with the use of cannabis. The 27-year-old says his life changed in the blink of an eye when he got into a car accident that left him severely injured. Travis sustained injuries to his upper back, neck and shoulders, all of which quickly ended his career in construction.
“I just wasn't able to do heavy lifting or swing a hammer on a regular basis,” he says. “I had to change jobs from construction to working in a coffee shop. I was making a lot less money and working less hours.”
That’s when Travis decided to give medical cannabis a try, first with CBD tinctures and capsules made by a friend. “It started helping me a little with my aches.” he says. “When I started smoking, it helped a little more.”
Travis says he prefers this natural method of pain relief to the aspirin he’d been taking before. He adds that cannabis doesn’t completely relieve his pain, but it seems to calm and relax him in a way that makes the pain more bearable and less noticeable.
Eventually, cannabis began to help Travis so much that he was able to go back to working the construction job that he’d before. This shift back to the career he’d been passionate about has been great for Travis. “It’s a career, instead of just a job at a coffee shop,” he says. Cannabis made all the difference.
Studies say that up to 97% of cannabis patients use the plant for pain. Research also points to cannabis as a potent painkiller. Cannabis can help treat back pain by stimulating the body's natural pain reliever: the endocannabinoid system. This system sends quick and potent pain relief to injured areas, and can be stimulated by some of the chemicals in cannabis, such as THC.
Cannabis offers a safer and more natural route of pain relief for patients dealing with chronic back pain, and patients often prefer this to the numbing and desensitized feelings that can come with traditional painkillers. In fact, in a study by UC Berkeley and HelloMD, 81% of patients reported that cannabis alone was more effective at relieving their pain than opioids were. Similar results were reported for patients using non-opioid painkillers.
Patients looking to use cannabis for back pain can choose from a large variety of options. Smoking or vaping cannabis can be very effective for this type of pain, but so can edibles, capsules, tinctures and topicals. THC-dominant varieties have been shown to help the most with pain, but high CBD options often help with fewer side effects.
There’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to treating pain with cannabis, so it’s often key for patients to explore their options to find the type of cannabis that fits their needs best.
If you suffer from back pain and think cannabis might be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online.
In the next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, we’ll go over how cannabis can help ease insomnia.
Photo credit: Valentin Lacoste