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Overview of Spinal Cord Disease

Spinal cord disease is a type of pathology of the spinal cord that is unrelated to a trauma. There are many types of spinal cord diseases, some of which include multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spina bifida, spinal stenosis, syringomyelia, transverse myelitis, hydromyelia, and Tarlov cysts.

The cause behind each of the spinal cord disease varies, however all result in the damage of the spinal cord and nerves. In MS, the myelin coating surrounding the nerves and the nerves themselves are damaged, permanently disrupting nerve signals. ALS is a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the spinal cord nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. In spina bifida, a birth defect creates an incomplete closing of the neural tube surrounding the spinal cord, causing deformities. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on the cord and its roots. Transverse myelitis involves inflammation of the spinal cord, which destroys the cord’s insulation and ultimately damages the nerves. Hydromyelia is an abnormal widening of the central canal of the spinal cord that allows cerebrospinal fluid to accumulate and put pressure on the spinal cord. Syringomyelia and Tarlov cysts are characterized by accumulating sacs of cerebrospinal fluid, within the spinal cord and at the base of the spine, respectively, which damages the nearby nerves.

Depending on the specific spinal cord disease and its severity, symptoms can include severe pain, muscle twitching and spasms, sleeping problems, headaches, muscle weakening and atrophy, and motor control problems.

Most spinal cord diseases have no cure, so the focus of treatment is on limiting the disease’s progression with medications, surgery and physical therapy, while simultaneously managing its associated symptoms.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Spinal Cord Disease

Cannabis helps patients of spinal cord diseases manage their symptoms. Studies have shown that medical cannabis can improve pain, sleeping problems, bladder control, spasticity, muscle twitching and depression commonly associated with spinal cord diseases (Amtmann, et al., 2004) (Carter, Abood, Aggarwal & Weiss, 2010).

Research has solidified cannabis’ ability to reduce muscle spasms in patients with spinal cord diseases (Lakhan & Rowland, 2009) (Syed, McKeage & Scott, 2014). In one study, patients with a spinal cord disease experienced pain relief and an improvement in bladder control and muscle spasms and spasticity after two weeks of cannabis treatment (Wade, et al., 2003). In another, rats with spinal cord injuries saw improvements in locomotor functional recovery and the researchers concluded that the findings suggested cannabis to be potentially useful in the treatment of spinal cord lesions (Kwiatkoski, Guimaraes & Del-Bel, 2012).

In addition, multiple animal trials have demonstrated that the administration of cannabis can prolong the survival of neurons and slow the progression of spinal cord disease’s like ALS (Bilsland, et al., 2006) (Carter, Abood, Aggarwal & Weiss, 2010) (Raman, et al., 2004).



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  4. Bilsland, L.G., Dick, J.R., Pryce, G., Petrosino, S., Di Marzo, V., Baker, D. and Greensmith, L. (2006). Increasing cannabinoid levels by pharmacological and genetic manipulation delay disease progression in SOD1 mice. The FASEB Journal, 20(7), 1003-1005. Retrieved from

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  13. Wade, D.T., Robson, P., House, H., Makela, P., and Aram, J. (2003, February). A preliminary controlled study to determine whether whole-plant cannabis extracts can improve intractable neurogenic symptoms. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(1), 21-9. Retrieved from

  14. Wilsey, B., Marcotte, T.D., Deutsch, R., Zhao, H., Prasad, H., and Phan, A. (2016) An Exploratory Human Laboratory Experiment Evaluating Vaporized Cannabis in the Treatment of Neuropathic Pain from Spinal Cord Injury and Disease. Journal of Pain, doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2016.05.010. Retrieved from

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