The back comprises bones, joints, ligaments, nerves and muscles that work together to keep it strong yet flexible. With so many components that could falter or weaken, it’s no wonder that most people experience some kind of back pain in their lifetime.
Back pain can really hinder your ability to lead an active lifestyle. It’s difficult to stay healthy and happy when you’re in constant pain and unable to exercise or even perform simple activities like walking or driving.
Many people with chronic back pain turn to powerful pain medications, including opioids, for relief. But drug-based pharmaceuticals often come with harmful side effects. Cannabis’s pain-relieving properties mean the plant offers a great alternative treatment for people with all types of back pain.
The Causes & Symptoms of Back Pain Vary
Things like spinal problems, muscle strains or sprains, arthritis, joint dysfunction or environmental factors like stress, medication and previous injuries can all cause back pain. Inflammation often intensifies the pain in the affected area, which happens as the body attempts to heal.
There are several different types of back pain, with various contributing factors:
- Bulging or slipped disc: This type of back pain occurs when a vertebra slips out of position, putting pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord. This can happen anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the neck. A slipped disc can not only result in neck and back pain, but can also manifest in limited mobility of the arms, back and neck.
- Degenerative disc disease: This is especially common in middle-aged and elderly adults, and is caused by the natural process of aging. Symptoms include difficulty turning the neck and chronic neck pain, as well as lower back pain that can affect the upper legs.
- Sciatica: The sciatic nerve is located in the lower back and runs down the backside of each leg. When this nerve is pinched, lower back pain intensifies and pain is felt in one or both legs.
- Spinal stenosis: This occurs when the spinal canal, located at the base of the spine, begins to narrow. Age, genetics and poor lifestyle habits such as bad posture can contribute to the development of spinal stenosis. Tightness in the upper legs and difficulty staying upright are common symptoms.
- Referred pain: The development of other medical conditions such as infection and kidney stones could cause pain in the lower back or groin area.
Back pain isn’t a simple condition and may require X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans to diagnose properly. Different types of back pain may require varying medication.
Traditional Ways to Treat Back Pain
Those suffering from mild back pain often use over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal pain relievers such as ibuprofen or Voltaren. Still, others turn to more powerful muscle relaxers. Most pharmaceuticals come with potential side effects such as kidney damage and digestive issues, while some can also negatively affect the liver.
As back pain worsens over time, many patients seek stronger forms of medication like opiates and steroids. Opioid drugs such as Vicodin and codeine work by altering pain signals in the brain to lessen discomfort. But these can come with potentially harmful side effects and in some cases lead to dependence and even addiction.
Corticosteroids are steroid injections intended to reduce inflammation in the back. Although they’re generally safe to use, too much of the steroid could lead to weight gain, bone loss and complications with blood-sugar regulation.
Because of the serious side effects of these drugs, many people turn to non-pharmaceutical options such as physical therapy, massages and biofeedback treatments. People are increasingly starting to add cannabis to this list of alternative treatments as well.
How Cannabis Can Help Treat Back Pain
Besides pain, back problems often cause inflammation in the affected areas. This means that marijuana can not only help ease the pain, but can also be effective in reducing inflammation. The two primary cannabinoids in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), both work as powerful pain relievers with anti-inflammatory effects.
If you suffer from back pain, marijuana can help:
- Reduce inflammation
- Limit the use of traditional drug-based treatments
- Lower pain levels
- Boost energy
- Address related issues including depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia
HelloMD and the University of California, Berkeley performed a patient survey concerning cannabis, pain and opioids. The majority of participants who said they were using opioid-based pain medication found cannabis provided the same level of pain relief, but with no undesirable side effects.
Clinical case studies in Canada also indicate that cannabis strains with various ratios of THC to CBD are effective at lowering chronic pain in patients with back pain. The use of marijuana eliminated the side effects of other medicines such as irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and sleep disturbance.
Recommended consumption methods of marijuana for back pain patients are smoking or vaping, because they offer near-immediate relief. You can also turn to cannabis oil if you want to avoid any kind of inhalation, though sublingual oil takes longer to produce any effects.
The Best Cannabis Strains for Back Pain
- GG4: This hybrid strain provides a powerful sedative effect to treat mild to severe pain. Best consumed before bedtim., GG4 will also ensure a deep sleep free from back pain.
- Harlequin: A hybrid strain high in CBD, Harlequin provides instant pain relief with only borderline psychoactivity. If you’re not particularly sensitive to THC, this may be a good strain to consume during the day as it may not impact your daily activities and responsibilities. But if even a small amount of THC affects you, try Harlequin at a time when you don’t have anything to do, just in case you do experience some psychoactive effects.
- Candyland: This marijuana strain is a strong sativa that helps with mild to moderate pain and muscle spasms. Candyland may work for those who need pain relief during the day; consumers report that it increases focus and relaxation without draining energy.
- ACDC: This high-CBD cannabis strain can provide relief for a lot of medical conditions, including chronic back pain. ACDC is a hybrid marijuana strain with a CBD content of up to 19%, which makes it perfect for reducing inflammation along with related anxiety and discomfort.
If you suffer from chronic back pain, it may be time to consider consuming cannabis to get some much-needed relief. Of course, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about what strain and dosage is a good starting point for you.
Photo credit: Sam Burriss