Could scoliosis patients benefit from cannabis? Written By – Bethan Bee Rose

One of the first things a parent questions when their child is diagnosed with what doctors call “scoliosis” is whether or not they could have done something to prevent it. However, since no known cause or prevention method currently exists, it’s important to understand that this physically-debilitating disease can arise in any healthy individual.

The real question is this: “Could cannabis be a viable solution?”

While it cannot be claimed a “cure” as such, the verdantly green cannabis plant does harbor outstanding pain-relieving properties (among many others) that suggest its potential in a market of millions of scoliosis patients. I – the writer – was one of them and after two life-changing eight hour surgeries, I can safely say that I’d have preferred it if doctors prescribed me some cannabis as opposed to the painkillers that I, eventually, became addicted to.

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that has the destructive power to affect functioning of the lungs and organs when it approaches (and surpasses) the 60 degree mark. Although the condition can arise in infancy or early childhood, the typical age of onset is in the range of 10-15 years old and cases may even be diagnosed past the age of 60.

Despite first being researched by Hippocrates way back in 400 BC, the root cause of scoliosis remains to be unknown. It is often diagnosed in puberty or early adolescence. However, doctors have reason to believe that neuromuscular conditions like cerebral palsy, diseases like osteoarthritis, and uneven leg length could cause the hip to tilt.

An “S” or “C” shaped spine is typically the first sign of adult scoliosis. This arises when the spine curves abnormally to the left or right. Just like there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to using cannabis for any ailment or medical condition, it should be noted that there are different types of scoliosis; hence no one-size-fits-all solution.

Let’s expand on the most commonly diagnosed cases:

  • Adult Scoliosis – Typically caused by a degenerative joint problem or a lingering problem that was not diagnosed in childhood.
  • Congenital Scoliosis – When the abnormal curvature of the spine affects newborns or young infants, it is deemed to be congenital scoliosis.
  • Infantile Idiopathic Scoliosis – Boys are more susceptible to this type of scoliosis, which usually occurs before a child reaches age three.
  • Juvenile Idiopathic Scoliosis – This type of scoliosis develops between the age of 3-10. It constitutes around 10% to 15% of all idiopathic scoliosis cases in children.
  • Idiopathic – This is perhaps the most common type of scoliosis. It accounts for approximately eight cases out of every 10. Girls tend to experience idiopathic scoliosis more often than boys.
  • Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis – This type of scoliosis arises just before adolescence, when the body experiences a growth spurt. Girls are more commonly affected by adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

While I noticed mine due to the fact my bra was resting strangely on my back – a friend enlightened me during my teenage years when we were getting dressed up to “woo” the boys at our local movie theatre – others patients will discover they have scoliosis when they become aware of unbalanced musculature on one side of the spine, rib/shoulder blade prominence, uneven leg/hip lengths and/or slow nerve action.

Scoliosis cases are usually classified as minor, moderate, or severe. In serious cases whereby the spine has caused an infliction on other areas of the body, scoliosis can put intense pressure on lung capacity and the heart, which, ultimately, can restrict a person’s ability to enjoy physical activities.

The age of a scoliosis patient, as well as the size/location of his or her curve, will ultimately influence a doctor’s treatment recommendation. Of course, the non-surgical option is sought after, but this isn’t always possible. With the vast majority of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis cases (fewer than 20 degrees) no treatment is required, but a patient’s condition should be checked every six months or so.

In cases whereby the curvature exceeds 25 to 30 degrees, the use of a brace will usually be encouraged by a doctor; a common choice for children who are still growing. Examples of some commonly used braces for scoliosis include The Boston Brace, Wilmington Brace, Milwaukee Brace, and Charleston Brace.

The first line of treatment to relieve scoliosis-related pain – either before or after surgery – will be an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen. In the event that these methods don’t work, narcotic opioids like codeine, morphine and oxycodone will likely be prescribed. Unfortunately, opioids like these are highly addictive and carry a high risk for abuse. I would describe them as my “gateway drug” for further years of abuse; until I found weed.

Some studies suggest that cannabis compounds can work with opiate-based pain medications to provide pain relief at reduced dosages. Because of this, hundreds of thousands of patients across legal medical cannabis markets in the United States are using cannabis in combination with opioids – whether it is to relieve pain caused by cancer or multiple sclerosis – as a means of gradually stopping opioid use completely/steering clear of this family of painkillers’ profound side effects.

Numerous studies have delved into the benefits of introducing cannabis to the human body. Scientists are already certain that cannabis-derived chemicals – better known as “cannabinoids” – play an integral role in managing the body’s pain mechanisms. According to the U.S. Society for Neuroscience, “careful studies show that cannabinoids directly interfere with pain signaling in the nervous system.” Researchers say that the insights may even prompt the development of new painkillers.

Scoliosis deformity may impose pressure on nerves and spinal cord, which suggests that cannabis’ neuropathic pain-relieving potential is certainly something to think about. Since scoliosis pain can sometimes be associated with back pain, headaches, neck pain, and hip, knee, or leg pain, cannabis’ pain-relieving qualities could be a critical tool for patients who endure discomfort caused by scoliosis. One study showed that “small doses of smoked cannabis may improve pain, mood and sleep in some patients,” while another claimed that cannabis can be helpful in relieving neuropathic pain.

Radicular (nerve) pain is also more common in people with scoliosis. Scoliosis can contribute to problems with breathing or sleeping. Some patients with scoliosis may experience problems with digestion, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and/or pain in the neck, hip, knee or leg due to the spinal displacement. Breathing difficulties are also commonly reported.

According to this study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “cannabinoids can have a substantial analgesic effect.” Moreover, studies have exposed the plant’s potential to reduce postoperative pain in patients, as well as its ability to assist patients with spinal cord injury, peripheral neuropathic pain, or central post-stroke pain. Patients with chronic pain and insomnia have also experienced success after using cannabinoids.

Although cannabis seems to be a viable solution for those who endure post-operative pain, it is important to understand that while it may be readily available to patients across much of America and Canada, its use is still heavily restricted across much of Europe. With that being said, it’s important that you consult with a doctor and review the laws in your area ahead of purchasing products from suppliers.

Check out the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) website for more information about Europe’s cannabis laws at: www.emcdda.europa.eu.

Published and Written by Bethan Bee Rose in Weed World Magazine Issue 148

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