Medical Marijuana for Back Pain

Marijuana leaves
Marijuana leaves. Gary Morrison/Collection:Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Our understanding of the risks and benefits of medical marijuana use has been increasing in recent years. Although as of February 2016, not all the questions have been answered, a handful of states have set up dispensaries and passed laws protecting patients who use this drug from prosecution.  These programs are far from complete. But the good news is some spine conditions and types of chronic neck or back pain are allowed in a few of the more forward-leaning states.

Find out where your state stands in the medical marijuana for back and neck pain issue.

About Medical Marijuana

Marijuana is the leading cash crop in the US and a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This designation means it has a lot of potential for abuse (i.e. addiction), and no medicinal value.

Yet, Marinol, a  synthetic marijuana-based medication approved by the FDA, is classified as a Schedule III drug. Marinol contains a synthetic version of THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. As a Schedule III drug, Marinol is regarded as medicinal, with less potential for abuse. The FDA approved Marinol to help stimulate the appetite in people with AIDS and to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy.

Cannabinoids and Pain

According to the Americans for Safe Access Foundation (ASAF), a pro-medical marijuana advocacy group in Oakland, California, the natural form of marijuana contains many more cannabinoids (in addition to the THC) than does the synthetic Marinol and consequently delivers more therapeutic benefits.

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemicals in the cannabis plant.  The University of Washington says over 480 cannabinoids exist, and these can be further sub-divided.  Some of the sub-divided compounds are more psychologically active than others.  THC, which is perhaps the best known of the cannabinoid sub-classes  is very psychologically active.

 Others are not as active as THC but are nonetheless valuable for treating certain medical conditions, for example, seizures in children.

As far as pain is concerned, ASAF reports that taking a combination of cannabinoids yields more pain control than taking THC alone.

Americans for Safe Access says that cannabis has at least two roles to play in the management of chronic pain, including neck and back pain.

First, it can relieve the pain itself - either alone or in combination with other pain relieving drugs. And second it can control nausea associated with long-term pain and also with taking opioids, a narcotic pain reliever.

ASAF also says that because inhaling leads to better absorption and fewer complications, it is the most  common and preferable way to take cannabis. 

Related: Types of Spine Doctors 


Americans for Safe Access. Chronic Pain. Accessed March 2016.

Cannabinoids. Learn About Marijuana. Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute. The University of Washington. Accessed March 2016.

Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. National Academies Press (US); 2000. Accessed March 2016.

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