According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, approximately 296,000 people live with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) in the United States alone. Furthermore, there are an additional 18,000 cases each year. Almost 80% of SCI cases are male, with automobile crashes the most common cause of injury.
While there is no way to reverse spinal cord damage, treatment options include medication, immobilization, and surgery. However, a growing number of people with SCI have turned to marijuana due to its purported benefits. This article looks at spinal cord injury, the available treatment methods, and research into how cannabis could help. It concludes by outlining five potentially useful marijuana strains.
Please note that none of the strains we mention are intended to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent SCI or any other medical ailment. The strains we outline are only intended as recommendations. This is due to a lack of clinical evidence that conclusively shows any specific cannabis strain is better than others for spinal cord injury.
What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?
Spinal cord injuries can be caused by damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, disks or the spinal column, and spinal cord. It is possible to suffer from a traumatic spinal cord injury after sustaining a sudden traumatic blow to the spine that compresses, crushes, dislocates, or fractures at least one of the vertebrae. An SCI could also occur after a knife or gunshot wound.
It can affect an individual’s motor, sensory, and autonomic function resulting in paralysis, loss of sensation, and autonomic dysfunction. SCI can cause temporary or permanent damage.
There are two types of SCI: incomplete and complete. While both are incredibly serious, one is more debilitating than the other:
- Complete: A complete spinal cord injury means that there is a total loss of feeling and motor function below the injury site.
- Incomplete: An incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when there is some loss of feeling and function below the affected area.
The spinal cord is a vital part of the central nervous system, so when it becomes damaged, it can lead to the following side effects:
- Loss of muscle function
- Loss of sensation
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Extreme chronic pain
- Muscle spasms
- Changes in sexual function
- Breathing difficulties
- Problems sleeping and insomnia
Depending on the severity of the SCI, someone may suffer from one or all of the above symptoms, which can be incredibly difficult to cope with.
Patients living with SCI often have symptoms of spasticity, making it difficult for the body to coordinate and control muscle movement. This may result in symptoms such as:
- Involuntary muscle tightness
- Sudden involuntary movements
- Hyperactive reflexes
What Are the Available Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Options?
At present, there is no method of reversing spinal cord damage. Urgent medical attention is required in the aftermath of SCI, with treatment usually happening at the accident scene. Medical personnel try to immobilize the spine as soon as possible with a rigid carrying board and rigid neck collar.
Once an SCI patient is in the hospital, doctors look to maintain the individual’s ability to breathe while preventing shock. They also immobilize the neck to prevent further injury and do their best to avoid complications such as urine or stool retention or the formation of deep vein clots.
SCI patients are typically treated with painkillers, but surgery may be required. Rehabilitation is usually necessary once the injury has stabilized.
In terms of medication, SCI patients may receive antibiotics, NSAIDs, antidepressants, or corticosteroids. Surgery might also be necessary to remove bone fragments, fractured vertebrae, or herniated disks that potentially compress the spine.
Once the initial injury stabilizes, the next step is rehabilitation. SCI patients may also use technologies such as wheelchairs, robotic gait training, or electrical stimulation devices. However, there is a growing trend towards using marijuana to help manage pain and improve the quality of sleep enjoyed by SCI patients. Let’s see what the research has to say.
Can Cannabis Help with Spinal Cord Injuries?
While marijuana does not offer a ‘cure’ for any spinal cord injury, it may help alleviate symptoms of the condition, including:
- Muscle Spasms
- Chronic Pain
Let’s look at some of the available research into each.
Cannabis for Spinal Cord Injury Muscle Spasms
A study published in 2010 looked into the effect of nabilone (Cesamet) on spasticity in individuals with SCI. The researchers recruited 12 males with SCI and spasticity, 11 of whom completed the study. They received either nabilone or a placebo during a four-week period, followed by a two-week washout period. Then the volunteers were crossed to the opposite arm, so placebo users from the first four weeks consumed nabilone and vice versa.
At the end of the study, there was a significant decrease in muscle spasm frequency when patients used nabilone.
Cannabis for Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is one of the most prevalent issues reported by spinal cord injury patients. One study published in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine in 2006 looked at different treatments for SCI.
Researchers looked at 26 different pain treatments tried by 117 patients with traumatic SCI. 70% of patients tried acetaminophen, while 71% used anti-inflammatory drugs. Meanwhile, 73% tried at least one of seven alternative options, with massage and marijuana the most prevalent. The study found that cannabis and massage provided the greatest level of pain relief amongst these alternatives.
Cannabis for Insomnia
Another study published in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine revealed that patients with spinal cord injury have a high rate of sleep-disordered breathing. Indeed, it is an issue with up to 60% of motor complete people with tetraplegia (an inability to move the upper and lower parts of the body voluntarily).
With this in mind, marijuana’s potential to improve sleeping patterns is extremely useful for SCI patients. A study published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience in 2020 looked into the benefits of cannabinoids on sleeping patterns. The researchers found that acute cannabinoids had the potential for sleep improvement, although they could cause withdrawal symptoms if used chronically.
Many other studies provide hope for patients with spinal cord injuries. However, further research is needed to show the efficacy of marijuana as a means of helping spinal cord injury symptoms.
What to Look for in Cannabis Strains for Spinal Cord Injury
Remember, there are no specific best strains for spinal cord injury. At present, the FDA has only approved three synthetic cannabis-related drug products containing THC: Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet. The administration has also approved a drug called Epidiolex, which contains CBD.
Nonetheless, as we’ve discovered from the research mentioned above, marijuana could prove useful when looking to manage the symptoms of SCI. When seeking a cannabis strain, there are a few things to consider.
First of all, look into strains with a high level of terpenes such as limonene, pinene, linalool, and caryophyllene. These naturally occurring compounds in cannabis are linked with a variety of health benefits.
For instance, a study written by Russo, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2010, made some interesting discoveries. According to Russo’s research, there’s evidence that myrcene acted as a muscle relaxant in mice. He also found that myrcene is a recognized sedative as part of hops preparations used for products designed to aid sleep in Germany. Furthermore, Russo discovered that myrcene had an analgesic effect in mice.
Cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN are potentially antispasmodic and anti-convulsant. Therefore, look for marijuana strains with high levels of these cannabinoids, along with terpenes.
Spinal Cord Injury BC (British Columbia) recommends marijuana strains with a 3:1 or even a 4:1 ratio of CBD to THC. Its rationale is that MMJ patients benefit from therapeutic effects without an excessive level of intoxication.
What Are the Best Strains for Spinal Cord Injury?
As we’ve outlined above, the ideal strains for spinal cord injury should contain a rich mixture of terpenes and cannabinoids. This tends to apply to a significant percentage of hybrids on the market. While some experts believe patients should restrict THC usage, some find that a high level provides pain-killing effects.
This is why we’ve selected a combination of high THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN strains, not to mention one with a large amount of myrcene.
1 – Romulan
Romulan is one of those strains that doesn’t get enough credit! A potent indica-dominant hybrid, this is one to choose when looking for a total body unwind. Romulan is likely named after a Star Trek alien, and rightly so as the effects are out of this world! It is probably a cross of White Rhino and an unknown North American indica.
It boasts THC levels of between 20% and 24% and a generous 1% CBD. Romulan is a wonderful medicinal strain offering a sedating high that could relieve bodily pain and discomfort and leave users in a cerebral state of bliss. Romulan is certainly one for the evening due to its potent sedative impact.
2 – Argyle
SCI patients looking for something gentler should consider the Argyle strain. A breeder called Tweed created it as a different version of the Nordle strain. For the record, Nordle is a cross of Sensi Star and Afghani. Argyle is a heavily indica-dominant strain noted for its subtle cerebral high, not to mention the noticeable effects on the body.
With a CBD content of between 5% and 8% and a maximum THC level of 7%, users can enjoy the effects of this strain without intense intoxication. In general, Argyle offers a gradual, mellow high that never threatens to overwhelm. One can also expect an uplifting sensation that includes mental stimulation.
3 – OG Kush
This is an all-time great indica-dominant strain that’s probably a cross of Old World Paki Kush and Chemdawg. No one is sure what ‘OG’ stands for in this case. However, it is likely either ‘Ocean Grown’ or ‘Original.’ OG Kush is known for its unique terpene profile consisting of relatively large amounts of myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, and limonene.
This is very much a cannabis strain for experienced users, as its THC can reach 26%. OG Kush is a heavy hitter that often causes users to feel chilled out and completely relaxed. The potency of this strain means SCI patients with chronic pain may feel some element of relief.
4 – Ace of Spades
TGA Subcool Seeds created this cannabis strain, which is a cross of Jack the Ripper and Black Cherry Soda. Although it is classified as a fairly balanced hybrid, users are more likely to notice the sativa effects. There aren’t many strains that contain CBN, but the Ace of Spades does with a whopping 2% to go along with up to 1% CBD.
Also, it has anywhere between 14% and 20% THC. Users often report feeling extremely happy and euphoric once the Ace of Spades high takes hold. It is ideal for anyone looking to attend a social gathering, although it is arguably too potent for novices. SCI patients who have difficulty sleeping may also enjoy the level of sedation offered by this strain.
5 – White CBG
Last but not least is the White CBG strain, an unusual strain created by Oregon CBD breeders. There are few, if any, marijuana strains with a higher level of CBG. Although the CBGa content is believed to be 10%, we have heard reports of versions with up to 18.5% cannabigerol!
It might take a few days of decanting, but eventually, the sweet cream and diesel flavors of White CBG will come to the fore. This strain also contains minimal THC, so there is little chance of feeling intoxicated after use. Instead, users report feeling calm and relaxed after consuming it.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis Strains for Spinal Cord Injury
Injuries to the spine are serious in all cases. However, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to relief. Although research is ongoing, all of the strains we have talked about above offer potential therapeutic effects for individuals with an SCI.
Please note we always recommend that patients consult a medical professional before adding cannabis to their medication list. Also, none of the strains we’ve mentioned are proven to provide additional benefits for patients with spinal cord injuries.