Spinal Cord Injury Archives - Cannadoc

Spinal Cord Injury

Medicinal cannabis in Spinal cord injuries: A clinician’s perspective

By Dr David Feng

I work as the Medical Director for Cannadoc Health, and in recent months I have been receiving more referrals from doctors about helping their patients with spinal cord injuries. Many of the patients who I consult have a very similar story.

After the initial trauma of the injury, many spinal cord injury patients develop a Chronic Pain Syndrome that tends to worsen with time. This happens as the injury itself causes permanent nerve damage to the spinal cord. The damaged neurons can send off abnormal, irregular, and high intensity pain signals irrespective of any ongoing injury. Over time, such patients become more ‘sensitised’ to the pain, setting off a cascade of secondary symptoms that inevitably worsens their discomfort.

As the pain condition progresses, these patients begin to lose sleep, their muscles start to waste away, and they begin to suffer intermittent cramping and spasms of their muscles. They often describe anxiety, depression, and insomnia because of the chronic nature of the pain, which further drives their distress. This becomes a vicious cycle of pain leading to emotional distress, leading to more pain. Eventually, such patients can become so physically and emotionally worn-down they no longer have any quality of life.

By the time such patients come to see me, they are often at the end of their tether. The majority will have tried a host of traditional front-line therapies such as strong narcotics (or opiates), nerve pain medications, anti-spasm medications, anti-inflammatories, as well as other more invasive treatments. If they come to see me, it means these therapies have not worked well. In such situations, it may be worthwhile exploring a trial of medicinal cannabis.

I have seen spinal cord injury patients that go from severe and daily debilitating levels of pain (often quoted as “15/10” pains) with poor quality of life, to “less than a 1/10” pain within a month of starting cannabinoid therapy. Initially, I thought this was too good to be true, but when this continued to happen consistently, I realised this was no fluke. This is the reason I decided to pursue this relatively new field of medicine; I wanted to find and help others who are suffering similar tragic circumstances.

Therefore, if you are suffering from chronic, debilitating pain, and you have tried and failed traditional therapies for pain relief, consider seeking advice from your doctor about the potential therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis.

In a decade of medicine, I have yet to find a better pain medication than medicinal cannabis in terms of its risk to reward profile. No, it is not going to work for everyone, but for those it works for, the results can sometimes be simply astounding.