Marijuana may help with back pain because it has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Back pain can be experienced in the lower or upper back, and can be acute or chronic. It is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor, and is also a common cause of disability.
About 80% of adults in the U.S. will experience lower back pain at least once in their lives.
Marijuana contains analgesic compounds that can help relieve pain, and clinical evidence suggests that marijuana could be useful for treating back pain.
Here, we explain how marijuana helps relieve back pain and provides an alternative treatment option.
What is Back Pain?
Back pain happens because of the way our bones, muscles and ligaments are connected together. Back pain can be caused by pulling a muscle or experiencing a spasm, a slipped disk, arthritis or sciatica.
Back pain is experienced differently depending on the individual and their medical history. Patients with arthritis may experience joint pain and stiffness, while those with sciatica tend to feel a sharp, shooting pain that travels through the buttocks down to the back of the leg.
Back pain can be acute or chronic. Acute pain often happens after an injury and is the most common type of back pain. Acute pain that is not controlled can lead to chronic pain. Chronic pain is ongoing pain that often lasts more than 3 months.
Common causes of back pain include repetitive strain, lifting something improperly or lifting something too heavy, bad posture while sitting at work, and even sleeping on a bad mattress. Back pain tends to occur in older adults, pregnant women, overweight people, and those who do strenuous manual work.
Conventional Treatments For Back Pain
Recommended treatments to relieve back pain depend on how long the pain lasts. These include massage, physical or chiropractic therapy, over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Tylenol or Advil, and prescription medications, including opioid painkillers.
Exercise, proper diet, and hot and cold packs can also help. Resting in bed is not usually recommended. Surgery is a last resort and depends on the cause of the back pain.
In addition to these treatments, some doctors are now considering medical marijuana for managing symptoms of back pain.
Can Marijuana Treat Back Pain?
Marijuana can be prescribed for different types of pain, particularly if other treatments have been unsuccessful. Clinical research on cannabis as an treatment for pain is extensive.
A clinical study of patients suffering from chronic pain reported that inhaling vaporized cannabis 3 times per day for 5 days, was associated with a statistically significant decrease in pain.
A 2015 review which looked at 6 clinical trials concluded that marijuana’s pain-relieving potential is supported by “high quality evidence.”
In addition, many people use marijuana successfully to treat painful conditions like menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.
Chronic pain is the most common indication reported by U.S. and Canadian patients who use medical cannabis.
How It Works
The cannabinoids in marijuana are known to have analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties, which explains how it helps treat back pain.
Cannabinoids are thought to suppress pain signals that are sent to the brain. They can also reduce inflammation, which often contributes to pain.
A 2004 study of 34 patients with treatment-resistant chronic pain showed that different cannabis extracts led to significant improvement in the control of pain.
Marijuana’s effects on pain are complicated, but scientists believe marijuana acts on specific pain pathways in the body. The endocannabinoid system is thought to play an important role in modifying pain, and marijuana stimulates this system.
Marijuana vs. Painkillers
Many people who use opioid painkillers find that marijuana can also help to treat their pain and reduce their need for these medications.
A 2017 survey on marijuana as a substitute for other pain medications found that 97% of participants were able to decrease their use of opioids and 81% strongly agreed that cannabis on its own was more effective at treating their condition.
Cannabis substitution to replace the use of opioids is also becoming more common across North America.
A 2015 survey of patients from Canada’s national medical cannabis system found that 63% of 166 respondents substituted prescription drugs with marijuana, and 32% used it instead of opioids because they reported fewer side effects and better symptom management.
All this goes to show that marijuana is a useful alternative to opioid painkillers, and can also be used in conjunction with them.
Back pain is extremely common but can be treated with a variety of different options, including marijuana. Marijuana’s pain-relieving potential is promising and offers an alternative to prescription medications, including opioid painkillers.
Recent studies are extensive and demonstrate that marijuana is an effective treatment for acute and chronic pain.
Compounds in marijuana have the ability to suppress pain and inflammation, which explains how it may help treat back pain.