Cannabis, or medical marijuana, is becoming a more popular option in the treatment of chronic pain. This includes chronic back pain. Despite the bad rap that cannabis has had in the past, studies are showing that—when used correctly—the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of this powerful little plant. In terms of a ‘natural remedy’ for back pain, medical marijuana is becoming an increasingly more popular option.


In a study at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, researchers found that people who used medical marijuana to treat chronic pain experienced no adverse effects. The study was performed to test how safe cannabis is when administered correctly. The cannabis users were compared against a control group who did not use the drug during the study. The results support the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of chronic pain. Dr. Aline Boulanger, the director of the pain clinic at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, confirmed that, “We found no evidence of harmful effects on cognitive function, or blood tests among cannabis consumers and we observed a significant improvement in their levels of pain, symptom distress, mood and quality of life compared to controls.” Studies are still underway to figure out the most effective way of administering cannabis to treat chronic pain.  However, researchers are making progress.


The active ingredient in marijuana is THC—or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the naturally-occurring chemical that creates the ‘high’ experienced when consuming cannabis products. When someone uses medical marijuana, it enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain. Once there, the THC blocks and/or mimics the way in which brain cells communicate with one another. When THC comes in contact with the areas of the brain that process pain, medical marijuana users can experience relief from, or a reduction in, pain. As research trials on medical cannabis use are still in their infancy, it is inconclusive as to the ideal percentage of THC that is ideal in the treatment of chronic pain.


For people dealing with chronic pain, consuming cannabis products may help in the management of their condition. The typical way to consume medical marijuana is by smoking it rolled up like a cigarette or using a bong. Bongs trap the smoke until the user inhales; this allows for a higher concentration of THC to form. People can use vaporizers to consume medical marijuana. They can also eat it in food products or steep it like a tea.


In addition to smoking and ingesting medical marijuana, applying the THC-rich plant topically is becoming possible as products such as cannabis oil flood the market. While there are numerous online testimonials from people who swear it has helped them with everything from aches and pains to full blown arthritis, there have yet to be any major studies to support these claims. Which is not to say that there are no benefits to the topical application of cannabis oil. Indeed, there is research currently underway that hopes to discover the exact benefits and uses for cannabis oil.


In the study done at McGill University, researchers concluded that cannabis is a viable option when managing chronic pain. That being said, the pain level decrease in the study’s participants was not extraordinary. Dr Henry McQuay, who wrote a commentary to accompany the study, notes that “The cannabis may help some patients who have limited relief from other remedies, but current cannabis formulations are unlikely to replace existing treatments.” So, while it is still unlikely for medical marijuana to become a standalone solution to managing chronic pain, it can still be used as a complementary therapy.


Like any substance, medical cannabis is going to affect different people in different ways. If you are curious about exploring how it may support you in managing your back pain, talk to your doctor. Medical marijuana probably won’t fully replace your current pain management treatments. However, it can be effective as a complementary therapy. As researcher Dr Mark Ware—who worked on the McGill study—points out, ”Any reduction in pain is important.”


Bonsor, Kevin and Nicholas Gerbis. “How Marijuana Works.” July 2, 2001. Accessed December 14, 2016.

Doheny, Kathleen. “Marijuana Relieves Chronic Pain, Research Shows.” August 30, 2010. Accessed December 14, 2016.

Robert, Julie. “Medical Cannabis in the Treatment of Chronic Pain.” September 29, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2016.

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