Spinal cord injuries affect around 300,000 Americans, so when we consider just how severe SCIs can be, this is quite a frightening statistic. But with no cure on the horizon, how far can CBD go to help those suffering from a spinal cord injury?
While it is true that CBD can help with specific symptoms that are common in many different conditions, there is no proof to say that CBD or cannabis can cure or reverse any condition. However, the research into what CBD can do is vast and promising, and one of the most recent findings in the medical world is how CBD could help in sufferers of spinal cord injuries.
We have put together an all-you-need-to-know guide about how CBD could have the potential to assist in some of the symptoms associated with spinal cord injuries, including its potential for regenerating damaged nerves.
What is the Spinal Cord?
The spinal cord is a vital part of our central nervous system, as it acts as the messenger between our brain and our body. When damaged, this can have detrimental and life-altering effects; if our brain cannot correctly transmit messages to our body, it can impair our movements and the way we feel things.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)?
Spinal cord injuries (SCI) can occur in anyone, young or old, man or woman. Interestingly, statistics show that males have the highest rates of this type of injury, accounting for over 80% of them in the U.S.
A spinal cord injury is when damage is done to the spinal cord, which causes either temporary or permanent changes in the way it functions. There are two types of SCI:
- Complete SCI: This occurs when the spinal cord can no longer send any signals below the area of damage. This results in paralysis of the body below the point of injury.
- Incomplete SCI: This kind of SCI can vary in severity depending on the injury, but an incomplete SCI is the partial loss of function beneath the point of injury.
Given that a spinal cord injury affects the whole area below the point of damage, it stands to reason that the higher up the vertebra the accident occurs, the worse the impact will be.
Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury
Like with most conditions, symptoms of a spinal cord injury can vary depending on the severity of the damage. However, listed below are the most common effects of an SCI:
- Partial or full loss of muscle function.
- Muscle spasticity.
- Intense and chronic pains.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Bladder problems.
- Partial or complete loss of sensation.
- Temporary or permanent loss of muscle strength.
As you can imagine, the symptoms associated with an SCI are quite often devastating to the sufferer, and can change a person’s life forever.
Treatments for Spinal Cord Injuries
There is currently no cure for a spinal cord injury, and at its worst, a SCI can leave a person fully paralyzed. However, there are treatments out there meant to relieve some of the symptoms and repair damaged nerves in an attempt to reverse some of the damage.
More often than not, the first ‘port of call’ in the treatment of any SCI are steroids, which in some cases can help decrease the amount of damage done to the spinal cord. Steroids can also reduce the inflammation and swelling which occurs in these kinds of injuries. However, steroids come with risks of their own, with many causing unpleasant side effects such as high blood pressure, glaucoma, weight gain, internal bleeding, and weakening of the bones and tendons.
Other treatments can include surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and to attempt to stabilize the spine. Of course, with these types of necessary surgeries come a range of potential risks and complications, which can in some cases make matters worse, or even be fatal.
CBD for Spinal Cord Injury Patients
With the severity of spinal cord injuries being clear and obvious, it seems hard to believe that any all-natural compound could be of any help in providing relief. And although research into this area is still in its infancy and requires much more investigation, so far the studies on CBD have been promising!
As CBD is a patented neuroprotectant – meaning it can help with brain injuries – it seems plausible that it could help by interacting with specific brain receptors that play a massive part in the way a SCI progresses.
We have seen from dozens of other studies into the cannabinoid that CBD might possess potent medicinal benefits that could be of some assistance in a range of conditions, and many of these can be carried over to the typical symptoms of an SCI.
However, there is much room for improvement regarding how we research CBD for spinal cord injuries, with scientists now believing the compound may even have the ability to regenerate damaged nerves, which, if true, could change the lives of those affected by a spinal cord injury.
To make sense of the evidence, we must look at a handful of research studies that have been done into CBD for its medicinal benefits, and how these could be applied to an SCI.
CBD for Spasticity
Perhaps one of the most common side effects of any spinal cord injury is spasticity. Spasticity is when the muscle either tightens or contracts uncontrollably; it can affect movement as well as speech.
Spasticity occurs in SCI patients when the flow of nerve messages is interrupted and cannot reach the control center of the brain. In an attempt to moderate things, the spinal cord will often step in. However, as our spinal cords aren’t as efficient as our brains, messages that are sent back to the muscles are often wrong, resulting in spastic muscle response.
Muscle spasticity can be an incredibly devastating symptom of any spinal cord injury, with some episodes being mild and others inducing violent movements. It can make day-to-day tasks impossible, and leaves many patients immobile for extended periods of time.
Muscle spasms in SCI patients can be caused by all kinds of things, with some of the following included:
- Urinary tract infection.
- Leg or arm movement.
- Cold or hot weather.
A study published back in 2007 looked at how taking the psychoactive cannabinoid THC both orally and rectally affected SCI patients. It looked at twenty-five patients who suffered from an SCI, taking place over 18 weeks split into three 6-week periods. Over the course of the study, the patients were given varying methods of administering THC at different doses, and this is what the results found:
- Spasticity decreased significantly in those receiving THC.
- Researchers concluded that “THC is an effective and safe drug in the treatment of spasticity. At least 15-20 mg per day were needed to achieve a therapeutic effect.”
Although this particular study looked at THC rather than CBD, we do know that both cannabinoids offer very similar therapeutic benefits. In this study, some subjects dropped out as a result of the psychoactive elements of THC, so while there is much work to be done, it is a great place to start from for the future of CBD and spasticity.
CBD for Sleep Issues in SCI Patients
For years marijuana and CBD oil have been used to help with sleep disorders such as insomnia. But did you know that up to 77% of spinal cord injury sufferers have symptomatic sleep disorders?
A study published in 2014* in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine looked at sleep apnoea in SCI patients, and the results not only found that over half of sufferers have sleep-disordered breathing, but also that a massive 92% has poor sleep quality.
There have been many studies done on how cannabis can help the duration and quality of our sleep, with one study showing that THC can even reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep!
A study published in 2013 looked at how CBD could affect the sleep-wake cycle in rats. The results showed that, during light periods in the day, the total percentage of sleep significantly increased in the rats treated with CBD compared to the placebo. The study concluded that the systematic acute administration of CBD appeared to increase total sleep time.
CBD for Pain Control in SCI Patients
Perhaps one of the most widely researched benefits of CBD is its ability to regulate pain receptors. There are years worth of studies and research into this area, which has led to many states allowing medical marijuana to treat some chronic pain conditions.
But can CBD help control the pain associated with spinal cord injuries? As you might imagine, chronic pain is a serious issue for those suffering from an SCI, with anywhere between 60-80% of patients suffering from it.
Pain can occur in almost any part of the body, from the areas that have the normal sensation to the ones where the feeling is limited. This pain can last for weeks, months, or even years and can be incredibly debilitating on both physical and mental health.
A study published in 2006* looked at different treatments for chronic pain in SCI patients, and one study they looked at revealed that using cannabis in conjunction with massages was the most effective way to relieve pain in spinal cord injury patients.
As we know, opioid misuse is a real problem across America at the moment, so the option to medicate with something less harmful and with no proof of addiction is vital.
CBD for Bladder Control in Spinal Cord Injury Patients
Many people don’t realize this, but most sufferers of a spinal cord injury will also have bladder control problems. This is largely because the spinal cord plays a huge role in our bladder control, so once damaged it is less capable of doing this.
Our spinal cord helps with bladder control by passing messages between the bladder and the brain; when the bladder is full, it will notify the brain that it is time to go to the toilet! Once the signal is sent, urine passes through and exits the body, so obviously once paralysis happens; we lose a lot of our bladder control.
Referring back to the study into spasticity from 2001, the researchers not only found that THC being administered both orally and rectally helped reduce spasticity, but also that this decreased bladder activity dramatically in those who received THC rectally.
Can CBD Regenerate Damaged Nerves?
It appears that not only can CBD and other cannabinoids be useful in relieving some of the symptoms of a spinal cord injury, but research has also shown some promise for the plant’s ability to prevent further damage from occurring.
We know that CBD is a patented neuroprotectant, and as such it is believed to be able to help with a host of conditions that affect our central nervous system. A study done in 2012* looked at how cannabis could affect those suffering from SCI within the first twenty minutes of administration.
The researchers concluded that “endocannabinoids acting through CB1 and CB2 receptors are part of an early neuroprotective response, [that is] triggered after SCI that is involved in spontaneous recovery after an incomplete lesion.”
Although this was an animal study, it shows great promise for CBD and other cannabinoids in helping spinal cord injury patients regain some of their functioning. Of course, though, much more research needs to be done!
Final Thoughts on CBD for Spinal Cord Injury
The scientific studies into CBD for spinal cord injury have been extremely promising; however, it is important to point out once again that cannabis, including CBD, cannot cure or completely reverse any symptoms of a spinal cord injury.
Also, while we do our research into these subjects to inform our readers as much as possible, we are not medical professionals and as such we advise anyone considering cannabis or CBD to check in with a medical professional for guidance on dosing, contraindications, etc.
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