Evidence based

CBD and Spinal Cord Injuries: Current Research & Understanding

Spinal cord injuries are serious and can lead to paralysis and loss of motor control. Here’s why people with spinal cord injuries are starting to use CBD to treat their symptoms.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

Spinal cord injuries can be debilitating, emotionally devastating, and life-threatening.

The spinal cord consists of many bundles of nerve cells that work together to transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body — and from the body back to the brain. They form “highways” of nerve impulses that branch off to different areas of the body as they move down through the back bones (called vertebrae).

Any damage to this highway can prevent signals from reaching everything beneath or above that point — potentially causing, paralysis, spasticity, hyperactive reflexes, loss of organ function and affected sensibility of the areas involved.

CBD is a current complementary treatment option for spinal cord injury patients for relief from symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms, depression, and insomnia — all of which are common side-effects of spinal injury.

Here, we’ll discuss how to use CBD and cannabis extracts for potentially relieving some significant effects of spinal cord injuries and what you can do to get the most out of your CBD.

  • MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY

    Abraham Benavides, M.D.,Medical Doctor

    Updated on November 08, 2019

  • Table of Contents

Summary: Using CBD for Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can have debilitating and life-altering consequences. Injuries can cause varying levels of paralysis, spasticity, loss of sensation, muscle weakness, and nerve pain that can persist for the rest of that person’s life.

There are some treatments available for this condition, most of which are supportive — helping those affected manage pain, depression, and other side-effects of the condition.

CBD cannot cure a spinal cord injury — however, it does likely offer a great deal of support for those affected by managing symptoms and promoting the repair of nerve cells in the damaged areas of the spinal cord.

There’s also some indication that CBD can support the recovery process — lowering the severity of side-effects and improving motor function in the affected nerves [1].

The Main Potential Uses of CBD for Spinal Injury

  • Managing chronic pain
  • Relieving symptoms of mild to moderate depression
  • Adjunctive treatment to prevent antibiotic resistance during lung infection
  • Alleviating insomnia
  • Promoting nerve regeneration
  • Possibly reducing the extent of nerve damage from the incident

Tips for Getting the Most Out of CBD for Spinal Cord Injuries

  1. Use a full-spectrum extract (THC may provide additional benefits)
  2. Seek out only high-quality CBD products to avoid further damage with contaminants
  3. Consult with your doctor before using CBD or other cannabis products to make sure there are no adverse interactions with other medications, or liver health concerns
  4. Seek additional support through nutritional supplementation and physiotherapy
  5. Address related emotional and psychological disorders appropriately

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord is an extension of the brain. It contains high concentrations of nerve cell tracts that send and receive messages between the body and the brain. Any damage to the spinal cord can result in serious consequences, including paralysis, spasms, neuropathic pain, or loss of organ function.

The spinal cord contains millions of nerve “intersections” that distribute signals to every part of the body. The area of the spinal cord that is damaged will determine what side-effects develop and where.

For example, if the region of the spine containing the nerves that control leg muscles is damaged, it means that there will be a weakness or complete loss of function in those muscles and sensory deficits in one or both legs.

Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms

  • Paralysis/Weakeness
  • Motor deficits
  • Sensory deficits (of pain, touch, temperature, location, and vibration senses)
  • Bedsores from prolonged immobility
  • Changes in mood
  • Chronic pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent infections
  • Headaches
  • Incontinence
  • Infertility
  • Muscle pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Pneumonia
  • Poor libido

Types of Spinal Cord Injury

Depending on how severe the injury is, there are three main classifications that doctors use to describe the condition:

  1. Incomplete spinal cord injury — involves damage that hasn’t completely inhibited nerve transmission past the site of injury.
  2. Complete spinal cord injury — damage to the spinal cord is severe enough that no nerve signals can pass across the site of injury.
  3. Brown Séquard Syndrome— damage to exactly one half section of the cord, either left or right hemisection.

There are also several other types of spinal cord injury such as: dorsal column lesion, irregular lesions, small or large central lesion, tumor of the dorsal root, or tumor of the meninges or bone.

The Location of the Spinal Cord Injury Matters

Nerves leave the brain and head down the spinal cord in bundles and pairs. They branch off at various points along the way to go to their target organs, and some tracts will cross sides.

The location of the damage to the spinal cord will determine which areas of the body are affected.

Complete damage of the spinal cord will prevent all nerves below the damaged point to stop receiving or sending messages. Therefore, to classify the level of injury, doctors will assess the lowest levels of different sensations and functions of the nerves in the spinal cord.

There are four main divisions of the spinal cord — organized according to the vertebral column. The vertebral column starts at one at the base of the skull and goes all the way to the coccyx. The spinal cord, in fact, actually ends between vertebrae L1-L2, and is followed by a bundle of nerves called the cauda equina the rest of the way down.

Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

  • Car accidents
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Stab wounds
  • Tumor growths
  • Sports injuries
  • Toxic exposure
  • Ischemic damage

Using CBD for Spinal Cord Injuries

What the Research Says

In 2012, researchers conducted a study on the use of CBD for spinal cord injuries in rats [1]. Rats were either placed in the treatment group and given CBD, or into the control group where no treatment was given. At the end of the six-day study, rats in the CBD treatment group had significant improvements in motor function and reduced injury side-effects than rats in the no-treatment group. Therefore, the researchers conducting this study concluded that CBD might be a useful treatment option for spinal cord lesions (injuries).

Another study used a survey that was handed out to 10 spinal cord injury patients at the Spinal Cord Injury ward of the Miami V.A. Hospital who were using marijuana to treat their symptoms. The survey was kept confidential and involved questions about the most common symptoms of the condition and how marijuana use affected them.

Results of This Survey Listed:

SymptomsMade WorseMade BetterNo EffectDistractionNot Applicable
Phantom Pain14221
Muscle Spasticity05302
Bladder Spasms11701
Urinary Retention20801
Headaches05401

THC has also offered benefits for spinal cord injuries. For this reason, a full-spectrum cannabis extract containing both CBD and THC is considered the best option.

Potential Benefits of THC for Spinal Cord Injuries

  • Reduces muscle spasms involved with spinal cord injuries [2]
  • Improves bladder control in spinal cord injuries [3]
  • Reduces pain associated with spinal cord injuries [4]

THC remains illegal throughout most of the world, so it may be difficult to find products containing more than 0.3% THC concentration. Further robust studies will be needed to better characterize standard effects and determine efficacy.

The right dose of CBD can vary a lot from one person to the next.

For this reason, it’s best to start with a small dose and build up gradually over a few days or weeks until you reach a dose that provides relief from your symptoms.

For some, this will be a small dose; for others, it’s much higher.

With that said, most people using CBD for spinal cord injuries require larger doses to find the relief they need from various symptoms.

To get a ballpark dosage, you can use the calculations below. You are using your desired strength (low, medium, or high-strength) and weight (in kg or lbs). This dose will help give you an idea of the dose you’re likely to need, but it isn’t conclusive — you will still need to play around with the dose to find the right amount for your individual needs.

Calculating CBD Dosage Strengths By Weight

Unit of MeasureLow StrengthMedium StrengthHigh Strength
Imperial (pounds)1 mg for every 10 lbs3 mg for every 10 lbs6 mg for every 10 lbs
Metric (kilograms)1 mg for every 4.5 kg3 mg for every 4.5 kg6 mg for every 4.5 kg

Here’s a chart with these calculations already done for you.

Daily Doses of CBD by Weight and Strength (in mg)

Weight (lbs)Low StrengthMedium StrengthHigh Strength

100 lbs

10 mg

30 mg

60 mg

125 lbs

13 mg

38 mg

75 mg

150 lbs

15 mg

45 mg

90 mg

175 lbs

17 mg

52 mg

105 mg

200 lbs

20 mg

60 mg

120 mg

225 lbs

22 mg

67 mg

135 mg

250 lbs

25 mg

75 mg

150 mg

Potential Side-Effects of CBD

Although CBD has been proven to be completely safe many times over, it’s important to know about the potential side-effects it may produce. Everybody is different, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work the same way for another.

Here are some of the most common side-effects of CBD:

  • Appetite suppression
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Lower heart rate
  • Sedation
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Medication metabolism interactions

Final Verdict: CBD for Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries are serious and come with a wide range of negative side-effects, including pain, insomnia, depression, and paralysis.

CBD is a useful supplement for spinal cord injuries when combined with conventional treatments and rehabilitation therapies. It is especially beneficial for addressing side-effects of the condition such as chronic pain, depression, and insomnia, and possibly even for promoting nerve regeneration — a key element of recovery from spinal cord injuries.

Other cannabinoids, including THC and CBG, have also been shown to be beneficial to spinal cord injuries in limited data. Therefore, a full-spectrum, high-potency extract is considered by many to be the best option for people with this condition.

Start at a low dose, and build gradually over time until you find relief from your symptoms.

References

  1. Kwiatkoski, M., Guimaraes, F. S., & Del-Bel, E. (2012). Cannabidiol-treated rats exhibited higher motor score after cryogenic spinal cord injury. Neurotoxicity Research, 21(3), 271-280.
  2. Hagenbach, U., Luz, S., Brenneisen, R., & Mäder, M. (2003, September). The treatment of spasticity with D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC) in patients with spinal cord injury. In IACM 2nd Conference on Cannabinoids in Medicine (pp. 12-13).
  3. Hagenbach, U., Gafoor, N., & Brenneisen, R. (2001, October). Clinical investigation of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as an alternative therapy for overactive bladders in spinal cord injury patients. In Cologne, Germany: Congress on Cannabis and Cannabinoids.
  4. Hagenbach, U., Luz, S., Ghafoor, N., Berger, J. M., Grotenhermen, F., Brenneisen, R., & Mäder, M. (2007). The treatment of spasticity with Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol in persons with spinal cord injury. Spinal cord, 45(8), 551.
  5. Maurer, M., Henn, V., Dittrich, A., & Hofmann, A. (1990). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol shows antispastic and analgesic effects in a single case double-blind trial. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience, 240(1), 1-4.
  6. Malec, J., Harvey, R. F., & Cayner, J. J. (1982). Cannabis effect on spasticity in spinal cord injury. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 63(3), 116-118.
  7. Dunn, M., & Davis, R. (1974). The perceived effects of marijuana on spinal cord injured males. Paraplegia, 12(3), 175-178.

Conditions that May Respond to Cannabidiol