Spinal cord diseases are spinal cord pathologies that develop by causes
other than trauma. Studies have shown marijuana improves pain, sleep, spasms
and other symptoms related to spinal cord diseases.
Overview of Spinal Cord Disease
Spinal cord disease is a type of pathology of the spinal cord that is
unrelated to a trauma. There are many types of spinal cord diseases, some of
which include multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
spina bifida, spinal stenosis, syringomyelia, transverse myelitis,
hydromyelia, and Tarlov cysts.
The cause behind each of the spinal cord disease varies, however all result
in the damage of the spinal cord and nerves. In MS, the myelin coating
surrounding the nerves and the nerves themselves are damaged, permanently
disrupting nerve signals. ALS is a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative
disease that attacks the spinal cord nerve cells responsible for controlling
voluntary muscles. In spina bifida, a birth defect creates an incomplete
closing of the neural tube surrounding the spinal cord, causing deformities.
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on
the cord and its roots. Transverse myelitis involves inflammation of the
spinal cord, which destroys the cord’s insulation and ultimately damages the
nerves. Hydromyelia is an abnormal widening of the central canal of the
spinal cord that allows cerebrospinal fluid to accumulate and put pressure
on the spinal cord. Syringomyelia and Tarlov cysts are characterized by
accumulating sacs of cerebrospinal fluid, within the spinal cord and at the
base of the spine, respectively, which damages the nearby nerves.
Depending on the specific spinal cord disease and its severity, symptoms can
include severe pain, muscle twitching and spasms, sleeping problems,
headaches, muscle weakening and atrophy, and motor control problems.
Most spinal cord diseases have no cure, so the focus of treatment is on
limiting the disease’s progression with medications, surgery and physical
therapy, while simultaneously managing its associated symptoms.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Spinal Cord Disease
Cannabis helps patients of spinal cord diseases manage their symptoms.
Studies have shown that medical cannabis can improve pain, sleeping
problems, bladder control, spasticity, muscle twitching and depression
commonly associated with spinal cord diseases (Amtmann, et al., 2004)
(Carter, Abood, Aggarwal & Weiss, 2010).
Research has solidified cannabis’ ability to reduce muscle spasms in
patients with spinal cord diseases (Lakhan & Rowland, 2009) (Syed, McKeage &
Scott, 2014). In one study, patients with a spinal cord disease experienced
pain relief and an improvement in bladder control and muscle spasms and
spasticity after two weeks of cannabis treatment (Wade, et al., 2003). In
another, rats with spinal cord injuries saw improvements in locomotor
functional recovery and the researchers concluded that the findings
suggested cannabis to be potentially useful in the treatment of spinal cord
lesions (Kwiatkoski, Guimaraes & Del-Bel, 2012).
In addition, multiple animal trials have demonstrated that the
administration of cannabis can prolong the survival of neurons and slow the
progression of spinal cord disease’s like ALS (Bilsland, et al., 2006)
(Carter, Abood, Aggarwal & Weiss, 2010) (Raman, et al., 2004).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Spinal Cord Disease
Currently, Illinois, New
Hampshire and Ohio have
approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of spinal cord
disease and New
Mexico and New
approved medical cannabis for the treatment of spinal cord damage. In
addition, Illinois includes the specific spinal cord diseases, Tarlov cysts,
hydromyelia and syringomyelia, as approved conditions for marijuana
A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used
for the treatment of spinal cord diseases with the recommendation from a
physician. These states include: California (any
debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended
by a physician), Connecticut (other
medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer
Protection), Massachusetts (other
conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other
conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other
conditions subject to approval), Rhode
conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any
“terminal or debilitating condition”).
D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a
DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
In addition, several states have approved medical marijuana specifically to
treat “chronic pain.” These
states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New
Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Vermont.
The states of Nevada, New
Dakota, Ohio and Vermont allow
medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have
approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”
Fifteen states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of spasms.
These states include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New
Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode
Island and Washington.
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Spinal Cord Disease
Cannabis with THC and CBD improved bladder control, muscle spasms and
spasticity in patients with spinal cord diseases and damage.
A preliminary controlled study to determine whether whole-plant cannabis
extracts can improve intractable neurogenic symptoms.
Amtmann, D., Weydt, P., Johnson, K.L., Jensen, M.P., and Carter, G.T.
(2004). Survey of cannabis use in patients with amyotrophic lateral
American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care,
Bilsland, L.G., Dick, J.R., Pryce, G., Petrosino, S., Di Marzo, V., Baker,
D. and Greensmith, L. (2006). Increasing cannabinoid levels by
pharmacological and genetic manipulation delay disease progression in SOD1
FASEB Journal, 20(7),
Carter, G.T., Abood, M.E., Aggarwal, S.K and Weiss, M.D. (2010). Cannabis
and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: hypothetical and practical applications,
and a call for clinical trials. American
Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine,
Kwiatkoski, M., Guimaraes, F.S., Del-Bel, E. (2012, April). Cannabidiol-treated
rats exhibited higher motor score after cryogenic spinal cord injury. Neurotoxicity
Lahkahn, S.E., and Rowland, M. (2009, December 4). Whole plant cannabis
extracts in the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a systematic
Raman, C., McAllister, S.D., Rizvi, G., Patel, S.G., Moore, D.H., and Abood,
M.E. (2004). Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: delayed disease progression in
mice by treatment with a cannabinoid. Amyotrophic
Lateral Sclerosis & Other Motor Neuron Disorders,
Spinal Cord Disease. (n.d.). Paralyzed
Veterans of America.
Retrieved from http://www.pva.org/site/c.ajIRK9NJLcJ2E/b.6348315/k.FC88/Spinal_Cord_Disease.htm.
Spinal Cord Diseases (2014, July 15). MedlinePlus.
Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spinalcorddiseases.html.
Syed, Y.Y., McKeage, K., and Scott, L.J. (2014, April).
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol/cannabidiol (Sativex): a review of its use in
patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. Drugs,
Wade, D.T., Robson, P., House, H., Makela, P., and Aram, J. (2003,
February). A preliminary controlled study to determine whether whole-plant
cannabis extracts can improve intractable neurogenic symptoms. Clinical
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