By Luke Sholl


The effect of spinal cord injuries is often permanent. In order to lead somewhat normal lives, individuals must make life-changing adjustments that are far from comfortable or easy. Even then, crippling symptoms can make managing pain and limited motor function incredibly difficult. Any treatment that can improve or reduce both the impact of the initial damage to the spinal cord and the subsequent symptoms is a blessing for those living with spinal cord injuries (SCI).

When dislodged or damaged bone fragment, disc material, or ligaments impact the spinal cord, often as the result of a blow to the neck or spine, nerves become compressed, unable to transmit signals from the nerve cells to the brain. This is a distinct difference from a back injury as SCI impact bodily functions, most notably mobility.

An increasing body of scientific study[1] has turned its attention towards cannabis and our endocannabinoid system to reduce the extent of initial trauma, while also providing relief from symptoms.


Researchers[2] wanted to observe how the endocannabinoid system, or more specifically our CB1 and CB2 receptors, react to spinal cord injury. The initial injury can sometimes culminate in a secondary response from our bodies that leads to further damage or pain. By altering our neuroprotective reaction, it would be theoretically possible to limit the extent of trauma in an incomplete SCI.

In a study on rats scientists found that a build-up of endocannabinoids 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide (AEA) occurred almost directly after an injury. By using a blocking agent, thus preventing CB receptors from being stimulated, control groups of rats experienced different biological reactions. While it is difficult to say how significantly this neuroprotective response could be manipulated to improve initial trauma recovery, it does prove that the endocannabinoid system plays a pivotal role.

The same CB1 and CB2 receptors found in our spinal cord are also found throughout our entire body, including major organs and our central nervous system. Although our body produces its own endocannabinoids, supplementation with phytocannabinoids from cannabis can enhance the biological response these receptors trigger. On a molecular level, THC has a striking similarity to anandamide.

Damage To Spinal Cord


The use of marijuana as a treatment for the symptoms of SCI extends further than the preliminary studies into our endocannabinoid system. Symptoms of SCI include severe pain, muscle spasticity, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms not only exhibit themselves directly after an injury, but have to be managed on a daily basis.

Traditional treatments involve the use of opioids, which, while useful in the short term, need to be taken repetitively to have continued efficacy. Regular opioid use, of course, brings an incredibly heightened risk of addiction, an attribute that is widely documented.


Questionnaires completed by those living with spinal cord injuries were collated to assess how cannabis use impacted spasticity, a condition that causes specific muscles to stay continuously contracted. Spasticity can be mild, causing stiffness in muscles, or in extreme cases, cause impairment to movement or speech.

43 questionnaires were compiled, of which the majority strongly suggested that marijuana use supported a reduction in spasticity[3]. Given cannabis carries none of the same addictive or toxic properties as common opioids, it was perceived by patients as the preferred alternative.

The data gathered will encourage further studies to be conducted in order to determine what dosage is required, and to what extent spasticity can be reduced.

How Cannabis Can Help With Spinal Cord injury


Spasticity isn't the only symptom those living with SCI have to contend with. As previously mentioned, constant or severe pain is a daily struggle. But can marijuana offer any solace? Studies testing THC and CBD in models of inflammation and pain are trying to find out.

While THC’s psychoactive side effects still need to be adequately explored in the realm of SCI, cannabidiol[4] as part of whole-plant extracts showed an improvement in neurogenic symptoms with side effects being “well-tolerated”. Marijuana’s efficacy, again, can be related to the responses cannabinoids trigger from our nervous system via our endocannabinoid system.


Living with SCI is an unimaginable trauma for most. Injuries of this severity transform a person’s life, affecting even the simplest of daily activities. Preliminary research topics all point toward cannabis as a powerful ally for improving the initial recovery process of incomplete injuries and as a substance that can be used daily to tackle symptoms.

For the sake of the individuals impacted, we must strive to explore the untapped healing ability of our endocannabinoid system.

External Resources:
  1. Characteristics of Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury Who Use Cannabis for Therapeutic Purposes
  2. Early Endogenous Activation of CB1 and CB2 Receptors After Spinal Cord Injury Is a Protective Response Involved in Spontaneous Recovery - PubMed
  3. Cannabis Effect on Spasticity in Spinal Cord Injury - PubMed
  4. A preliminary controlled study to determine whether whole-plant cannabis extracts can improve intractable neurogenic symptoms
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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