Can a Doctor Prescribe Medical Marijuana for Back Pain? [Answered]
If you suffer from back pain, medical marijuana could be a much safer option than prescription pain medication. Long-term use of opioids can have some serious lasting effects on the user, including addiction, an imbalance of brain neurotransmitters, liver damage, and more. Marijuana, on the other hand, has not demonstrated any of these side effects and, in fact, most patients have only reported complete relief of pain when using cannabis.
More and more states throughout America are passing laws that allow people to use medical marijuana. Chronic pain is among the most reported qualifying condition for medical cannabis programs across the country. Not only are many patients using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain, but they are also lowering prescription pain medication use, or even cutting it out altogether. Using medical marijuana for back pain might be a good idea if you are one of those people who rely on painkillers to get through the day.
There is increasing evidence to support the fact that medical marijuana is a safe and efficient alternative to relieving back pain or spinal injury related to pain. A research study*, conducted at the University of Colorado’s Spine Centre and published in MedPage Today back in 2013, looked at 200 patients who were suffering from degenerative disc problems and other back pains. 89% of participants stated that marijuana either moderately or greatly relieved their pain, and 81% said that it worked as well as or better than painkillers.
But, let’s address the elephant in the room; marijuana is still a controversial substance that has been painted in a negative light through decades of moral condemnation, false media coverage, and ridiculous legislation. For many patients, especially those among the older generations, asking their doctor about medical marijuana isn’t as easy as enquiring about the “normal” pharmaceutical drugs. This is perfectly understandable, but just remind yourself that your health and well-being is what matters most.
If your doctor is judgmental, scornful, or dismissive about your questions concerning medical marijuana, consider getting a second opinion from a physician who respects your concerns and doesn’t focus on their personal beliefs but rather, is interested in helping you feel better.
What is Medical Marijuana?
Many people feel a little apprehensive when they think of the word marijuana, since most people associate the substance with illicit activities. However, it’s not just about having a good time. There is a great deal of evidence to show that marijuana can help treat several chronic medical conditions.
When people talk about medical marijuana, they’re referring to the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant, or the chemicals within it, used to alleviate the symptoms of specific diseases or conditions. It’s important to note, however, that while some states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, the FDA doesn’t approve or recognize the plant as a medicine.
The marijuana plant consists of over 100 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, and each of these have different effects on the body. The two main chemicals used for medicinal purposes are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): the psychoactive compound of marijuana. i.e., the chemical that produces the high.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): doesn’t have any psychoactive effect and is notorious for its medical qualities.
Generally, medical marijuana will have a higher CBD content, so you will benefit from the medical properties, without the “high” that is associated with using marijuana for recreational purposes.
How medical marijuana treats back pain
The human body consists of numerous cannabinoid receptors that form part of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for a variety of physiological processes including mood, appetite, memory, and pain. Marijuana changes the way these nerves function in the human body, which helps in pain management.
There are over 80 cannabinoids, each of which has various effects ranging from inflammation reduction to pain reduction. For back pain, the most concerning symptoms to manage are nerve damage, inflammation, chronic pain, and tension.
Marijuana affects everyone differently, which is why it’s often recommended that you try out multiple strains to find which one is most effective for you. You can also try different forms of each strain, such as concentrates or edibles, since one form may work better for you than other. Keep a log and document the effects from your dosing. Eventually, you will find an appropriate level of medication and determine the strain and form that works best for you.
Can a doctor prescribe medical marijuana for back pain?
Firstly, let’s make it perfectly clear that asking your doctor about the health benefits of medical marijuana is perfectly legal. You will not be reported to the police, and you won’t be criminally charged simply for enquiring about whether marijuana can help treat your symptoms. Secondly, since marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug, doctors don’t formally prescribe it; instead they recommend usage. You will need the physician’s recommendation if you want to buy your medical marijuana at a dispensary.
You might also want to use this recommendation to apply for a formal medical marijuana card, which would enable you to become a registered medical cannabis user in your state. In many states, this card is an optional step, but be sure to find out the specific laws for the state in which you live. The medical marijuana card will offer you protection in the event that you need to prove to law enforcement that you are using cannabis for a valid medical condition. This card is an official state document, and it can help you to avoid unnecessary hassle.
It’s important to remember that each state has different guidelines and rules when it comes to prescribing medical marijuana. While one condition may qualify as acceptable to treat with medical marijuana in one state, it may not be in another; qualifying health conditions vary from state to state. Patients with one of these qualifying conditions can consult with a doctor to obtain the necessary approval to buy and use medical marijuana. Sites like the Marijuana Policy Project will tell you everything that you need to know about the cannabis laws in your state.
Having said that, back pain is a fairly vague term. It could be a symptom of arthritis, inflammation, chronic pain, spinal injury, or multiple sclerosis, among other conditions. If your condition is severe enough, there is no reason that your doctor shouldn’t prescribe marijuana. Chronic pain is the most reported qualifying condition for medical cannabis programs across America. This refers to any pain that you experience for weeks, months, or sometimes even years on end. Ultimately, if your form of back pain is classified as chronic pain, arthritis, or any other severe condition, then it is likely that you would qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that not all doctors are clued up on the latest research into medical cannabis. Therefore, you shouldn’t assume that your doctor is. In fact, most physicians have not even been taught about the endocannabinoid system, let alone the medicinal value of cannabis and cannabinoids. Even doctors who do make marijuana recommendations might not be familiar with its value, dosing, or the multiple different strains. It’s therefore important to do your homework and understand the issues and options involved in using medical marijuana.
Lastly, it’s not the end of the world if your doctor doesn’t recommend marijuana for you. You can still find a physician who specializes in this treatment. If your back pain qualifies you to use medical marijuana in your state (most likely if it’s classified as chronic pain), and you have no contraindications that would make usage risky, but your primary physician doesn’t feel comfortable making a marijuana recommendation, you can ask him or her to refer you to another clinician. You can also track down medical marijuana through online resources such as the Medicinal Marijuana Association.
Important things to know before setting up an appointment for a medical marijuana evaluation:
- Physicians qualified to order low-THC or medical cannabis have special, state-mandated reporting requirements they must follow when ordering low-THC or medical cannabis.
- Approved dispensing organizations are required to verify the identity of the patient.
- Qualified patients may only fill low-THC or medical cannabis orders at approved dispensing organizations.
- Insurance does not cover initial and ongoing low-THC and medical cannabis evaluations.
- Medical marijuana is NOT covered by insurance. You are responsible for the total cost of the drug.
- Medical marijuana comes in different forms. You can ask your physician to prescribe the best ratio of THC to CBD to look for in the cannabis strain, as well as the suggested dosage, along with the administration method.
- Side effects do exist, although they are usually minor. They are generally dose-related and occur more frequently in novice users.
Final thoughts on doctors prescribing medical marijuana for back pain
Ultimately, if you reside in a state where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal reasons and you suffer from some form of severe back pain, i.e., chronic pain, there is no reason that your doctor shouldn’t recommend marijuana as a treatment option. However, since cannabis is still a schedule 1 drug in America, doctors do not write a prescription but rather sign off on a medical recommendation.
There are various websites that will direct you to medical cannabis physicians in your area, but make sure you do your research. It’s still your responsibility to determine that cannabis is the right route for you. Your best bet is to ask your doctor about the risks and benefits associated with the options that you are considering; that way, you can decide what makes sense for your specific symptoms and circumstances.
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