Marijuana For Back Pain, Good Idea or Bad?
Back pain is one of the most common types of pain and also one of the most debilitating. It also can be a challenge to treat effectively, which is why some people are turning to marijuana for relief. But is that a good idea?
Turn on to turn off pain? The increasing acceptance and use of medical marijuana is sending moderate shock waves throughout the medical establishment as experts continue to disagree about how and when the drug should be used. Yet there are scores of studies showing that marijuana, in various forms, have proven helpful in managing a number of diseases and their symptoms, from multiple sclerosis to type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and bipolar disorder, among others.
For a group of individuals at a Colorado university spine clinic who were experiencing back pain, the answer seemed simple enough: use marijuana, even if they did not have a prescription. According to a new report recently presented at the North American Spine Society’s annual meeting, nearly 20 percent of 184 patients at the clinic admitted using marijuana for their back pain, even though only 46 percent of them had a prescription for the drug.
Colorado is among the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for medical reasons, but it is unique in that it legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012. The concern over the use of marijuana for back pain involves several factors, such as (1) not much is known about how marijuana works for spine issues, and (2) individuals may be using narcotic painkillers simultaneously.
In the study, headed by Michael Finn, MD, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of Colorado, the research team discovered that 90 percent of back pain patients who used marijuana said they smoked it, 45 percent said they ingested it orally, and 29 percent used vaporization.
Most of the marijuana users said they partook once or twice a day, and the majority of them (83%) were also taking other medications, with narcotic painkillers being the most common category. Did they think the marijuana was helpful?
Overwhelmingly, yes. Eighty-nine percent reported that marijuana use greatly or moderately relieved their back pain, and nearly as many (81%) noted that marijuana was just as effective as or better than narcotic painkillers.
Patients who used marijuana did report some side effects, however. Depression, memory problems, weight gain, paranoia, and trouble with concentration were noted by 14 percent of users.
So did marijuana really help these patients? Finn does not believe this study was able to determine whether the drug is effective in relieving back pain. And how much of a role did the use of narcotics have?
To answer these and other questions, additional research is needed, as has been done with marijuana and multiple sclerosis, where positive results have been reported. Until then and the findings are reported, there is no doubt some people with back pain will use marijuana to manage their condition. Whether that is a good idea is largely unknown.
North American Spine Society annual meeting
Photo: Neeta Lind