I have three herniated discs in my lower lumbar spine. A few weeks ago, I really aggravated one or more of them by using a very heavy electric pole saw to trim branches in my back yard some 15-20 feet above my head. After using the saw, I was unable to bend over and pick up the branches because of the stabbing, hot pain in my back.
I met with my physician via telemedicine, and she prescribed me an oral steroid and later muscle relaxants. Neither of them seemed to have any impact on alleviating my pain. I also tried 800 mgs of ibuprofen, TENS electric treatment, applying heat, various regular stretching routines, topical pain relief ointments, and using a back brace.
Unfortunately, anytime I tried to sit or get up from sitting or bend over in the slightest way I had severe nerve pain shooting from my lower back into my right leg.
My next medical option is a steroid injection at the site of the pain. I looked up the evidence of the effectiveness of this procedure and it appears it has a positive effect on about 70% of patients who reported at least 50% improvement.
Being in significant current pain, I was willing to try just about anything for some quick relief. I read the published research on using cannabis to alleviate back pain and the evidence to date indicates it may help: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8907633/#:~:text=Cannabis%20has%20been%20further%20reported,%2C%20multiple%20sclerosis%2C%20and%20fibromyalgia.&text=Additionally%2C%20there%20is%20growing%20evidence,to%20mitigate%20nonsurgical%20back%20pain.
Getting a Medical Marijuana Card
I live in Florida, where medical marijuana is legal. So, I scheduled a visit with a local business that helps you obtain a Medical Marijuana (MMJ) Certification from the state, which then allows you to purchase marijuana for selected physical maladies.
During my visit, I met with a board-certified physician who asked me about any contraindicating health problems and medicines I might be taking, and she very briefly described differences between CBD and THC, sativa vs. indica cannabis strains, and some of the many options for marijuana delivery (e.g., topicals, transdermal patches, vaping, oral ingestibles, etc.).
Even as a prevention specialist, I was somewhat confused about the plethora of product options, dosages, use of THC vs. CDB vs. combinations of both, and how specifically it might reduce my back pain.
The doctor then handed me a folder with information about local dispensaries which included a number of coupons for discounts on marijuana products. And after paying about $200 in fees to both the state and the cannabis certification company, I had my online medical cannabis card and was on my way to the closest dispensary.
As a prevention specialist, I am greatly concerned that during the physician’s consultation the doctor did not mention risks of THC use for addiction, driving or operating machinery, edible overdose among children and pets, and certain high risk populations including adolescents and pregnant women. Nor were there any print materials in the folder warning customers of the potential risks associated with THC use and misuse for them and their families.
And while I was there to purchase medical marijuana to address a medical problem, the checkout person informed me that in no time I’d have my medical cannabis card and go down the street and purchase some cannabis “goodies.”
In addition, I found the discussion of using THC as a therapy conflicting with its availability in edible forms like gummies, the use of rewards programs to increase cannabis sales, and product labels such as “haze,” “secret orchard,” and “Nordic wellness.” You don’t see these practices at your typical physician’s office.
On to the Dispensary
The dispensary I visited was a beautiful facility that reminded me of a jewelry store with bright modern lighting, ample glass counter space and a wide array of colorfully packaged products arranged throughout.
Inside the waiting room there was a full-sized stand-up poster of Mike Tyson (he has his own line of cannabis products) and two huge monitors on the wall with a dizzying number of current and upcoming cannabis products flashing on the screens.
Once I was allowed entry into the display area, two young budtenders met with me and after hearing about my medical situation quickly recommended either topicals or transdermal patches, of which there were several to choose from.
While these recommendations made sense to me as I was having localized lower back pain, they conflicted with the earlier recommendation from the physical and staff at the cannabis certification company, who both suggested I use a tincture.
My sense is that this whole medical marijuana thing is a very loose business indeed, compared to regular medical diagnosis and treatment practice.
In fact, the differing recommendations I received from staff at the cannabis certification company and the dispensary appeared to be determined primarily by their personal use of cannabis products to treat their own health issues.
Does Cannabis Help?
I purchased three transdermal patches each designed to last 72 hours. Two patches had a one-to-one mixture of THC and CBD (10 mg each) and one had just THC (20mg). Supposedly, CBD may reduce pain and inflammation while THC may reduce pain.
I started with a combined formulation patch. Within a few hours of placing the patch on my lower back I felt that I was experiencing a little bit less pain sitting and getting up from a sitting position, as well as bending forward.
It was not a large effect, but noticeable and moving in the right direction of less pain.
Was this due to the patch or placebo effect or my body’s natural healing process? I don’t know for sure.
It’s now been three days and my back pain is still less than before I administered the patch, but not noticeably any better.
I’m not suffering the sharp jolts of nerve pain when I move as I had before I applied the patch, I’m more mobile now, and I don’t feel as much pain radiating down my leg as before.
I’ve just applied my second patch. This time I’m trying the one with THC only.
I’m also scheduled, through my regular doctor, for an MRI to better diagnose the extent of the rupture in my spine.
My plan is to use my three cannabis patches and then afterward see how my pain feels.
If my pain persists or worsens, I think I’ll try the cannabis transdermal gel which would allow me to more flexibility for administration and not have to worry about showering as with a patch.
I can’t say for certain that the initial transdermal patch with THC and CBD was responsible for my lessening pain and greater mobility, or if it’s due to a placebo effect or perhaps natural healing of the spine over time.
Regardless, I’m very happy to have some relief from the stabbing pain of a pinched back nerve.
As for the business of medical marijuana, in my experience, it is currently based more on personal experience, guesswork and testimony than any other form of medical practice I’m familiar with.
Unfortunately, as I found, the risks of using cannabis, particularly THC, are not being communicated to customers and their families during the process of gaining a medical cannabis card or purchasing cannabis products.
In addition, medical marijuana is being over marketed with rewards programs as though it were any other non-pharmacological product you can purchase, which could lead to increased misuse, addiction and other problems for some people.