A spinal cord injury is damage that occurs to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function. Spinal cord injuries usually occur when vertebrae are dislocated or fractured. The damage to the spinal cord begins at the moment of the injury when displaced bone fragments, disc material, or ligaments from the dislocation or fracture bruise or tear into spinal cord tissue. Most injuries don’t sever your spinal cord. Instead, an injury is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which then crush and destroy axons. Axons are extensions of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord that allows the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.
Frequent causes of spinal cord injury are trauma such as car accident, gunshot wound or a bad fall. A spinal cord injury is very different from back injuries such as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves. A person can have a severe back injury and not sustain a spinal cord injury.
There are two types of spinal cord injuries, complete and incomplete. In a complete spinal cord injury, both sides of the body are equally affected, and the spinal cord cannot relay messages below the level of the injury. This results in being paralyzed below the level of injury. In an incomplete injury, there is some movement and sensation below the level of injury. An incomplete injury does not affect both sides of the body equally, as a person may be able to move one limb more than another, have more functioning on one side of the body than the other, or be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved.
Cannabis can reduce muscle spasms, nausea, and the frequency of sleepless nights for patients suffering from spinal cord injury.
Some benefits of medical cannabis that many patients with spinal cord injuries have reported include improvements in:
- Spasticity – Cannabinoids found in medical marihuana have been shown to be effective in reducing spasticity and are currently being studied. Anecdotal reports by individuals with spinal cord injuries have revealed a beneficial effect of marihuana on the management of spasticity. The relaxing effect of marihuana on muscles in patients with spinal cord injury related spasticity is due to an anti-spastic effect rather than simply due to a general relaxation response.
- Pain – Medical marihuana has been shown to help control pain levels in patients with spinal cord injuries. Basic research conducted over the past 20 years has allowed researchers to identify the cannabinoid receptor system, which is the most widespread receptor system in the human body. The CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain, spinal cord and periphery. Endocannabinoids are produced by the body and interact with CB1 receptors. Numerous studies have now established that cannabinoids found in marihuana help lessen pain.
- Sleeping Problems – Drowsiness is a known common side effect of marihuana. Many patients with spinal cord injuries have a hard time sleeping due to pain. A small dose of marihuana before bed often helps patients with spinal cord injuries get a good night’s sleep.
- Bladder Control – Many patients who suffer loss of bladder control find that medical marihuana helps control this symptom.
- Depression – In small doses, marihuana increases serotonin, similar to SSRI antidepressants. Marihuana’s antidepressant effects are because of its chemical similarity to natural substances in the brain known as endo-cannabinoids. These endo-cannabinoids are released under conditions of high stress or pain. These receptors have a direct effect on the cells producing serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates the mood.