Spinal Cord Injury

Unlike other parts of the body, the spinal cord does not have the ability to repair itself once damaged. A spinal cord injury occurs when trauma, loss of normal blood supply, compression by a tumor, arthritis, cancer, inflammation, an infection, or disk degeneration of the spine. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are about 54 cases per million population in the United States or approximately 17,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries per year.

After the injury, patients may experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms which include loss of movement; loss or altered sensation; loss of bowel or bladder control; exaggerated reflex activities (spasms); changes in sexual function, sexual insensitivity and fertility, pain or intense stinging sensation caused by the damaged nerve fibers, and difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from the lungs.

The intensity and manifestation of the symptoms of a spinal cord injury depends on the location of the injury along the spinal cord and the severity of the injury to the spinal cord. The severity or “completeness” are classified into two categories, complete injury and incomplete injury. A complete injury is when all sensory and ability to control motor function is lost below the spinal cord injury. On the other hand, an incomplete injury is when the patient still has some motor or sensory function below the injured area.

In addition, the paralysis resulting from a spinal cord injury depends on the parts that are affected. Tetraplegia or quadriplegia refers to the paralysis of arms, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs caused by the spinal cord injury. Paraplegia refers to the paralysis of all or part of the trunk, legs, and pelvic organs.

Conventional Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no treatment that can reverse the damage caused by the spinal cord injuries. Thus, treatment options only help in minimizing the damage caused by the injury or help with the symptoms experienced by the patient.

Surgery

In order to minimize the damage surgery may be necessary. Surgeons remove fragments of bones, foreign objects, herniated disks, or vertebrae fractures that are compressing the spine. Thus, stabilization of the spine is important to prevent future pain or deformity.

Medications

The pharmaceutical drug methylprednisolone works by mitigating the secondary effects caused by the spinal cord injury. Therefore, this improves inflammation, lipid peroxidation, and excitotoxicity. However, usage of the drug can cause side effects such as:

  • skin problems
  • Slow wound healing
  • Changes in the shape or location of body fat
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating
  • Dizziness/ spinning sensations
  • Insomnia
  • Increased sweating
  • Mood changes

Spinal Cord Injuries and Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana has shown positive results in relieving the symptoms of patients with spinal cord injury.

In the study done by Arevalo-Martine et al. in 2012 found swelling improves with the use of canabis. White matter and myelin also improves upon the administration of cannabinoids 20 minutes after the spinal cord injury. Another study done by Hong et al. in 2015 showed that cannabinoids improved neurological function and decreased compression lesion volume.