The seven vertebrae running through the neck between the head and the chest make up the cervical spine, and cervical spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal in this part of the backbone.
The spinal canal houses the bundle of nerves called the spinal cord. This collection of nerves allows us to feel, to move, and to control the bowel, bladder, and other bodily functions.
When the spinal canal narrows, it can squeeze or compress the nerve roots where they leave the spinal cord, or it may compress and damage the cord itself.
This squeezing of the nerves and cord in the cervical spine can have a major effect on how the spinal cord functions, and it can cause pain, stiffness, numbness, or weakness in the neck, arms, and legs. It can also affect your ability to control your bowels and bladder.
In rare cases, because of the way the bones are formed, the spinal canal is narrowed from birth, but stenosis is generally caused by age-related changes in the shape and size of the spinal canal and is most common in people fifty or older.
The aging process sometimes causes the spongy discs between the bones of the spine to become herniated and bulge out farther than normal. It can also lead to a thickening of the ligaments that connect the bones.
Finally, aging can also lead to a destruction of the cartilage that covers the bones and excessive growth of the bones in joints. All of these conditions can cause the spinal canal to narrow.
Many people do not suffer from any symptoms, despite having some narrowing of the spinal canal.
Cervical spinal stenosis does not cause symptoms unless the spinal cord or the nerves become squeezed by the narrowing spinal canal.
If they do appear, symptoms usually develop gradually over a long period of time and may include:
- Pain, stiffness, numbness, or weakness in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, or legs.
- Balance and coordination problems, such as shuffling or tripping while walking. Cervical spinal stenosis can be crippling if the spinal cord is damaged.
- Loss of bowel or bladder control.
Cannabis in Medicine
The uses of marijuana in medicine are many, but the most common condition treated with cannabis is a spinal pain.
This includes spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, cervical and lumbar injuries, post-spinal surgery pain as well as nerve root pain or radiculopathy associated with disc herniation.
Most patients report a sizeable decrease in the painful muscle spasm associated with spinal disease or injury. Relief of spasm is one of the ways patients benefit from cannabis treatment.
Cannabis serves at least two important roles in safe, effective pain management. Either alone or in combination with other analgesics it is able to provide pain relief.
It can also control nausea associated with taking opiates commonly prescribed for pain, and, finally, it gives some control over nausea, vomiting, and dizziness that often accompanies severe, prolonged pain.
Many patients also report that cannabis enhances their ability to process the pain experience.
While individuals are still aware that the pain is present, it doesn’t have the same debilitating physical or emotional impact. This allows patients to function effectively in spite of their condition.
Marijuana Concerns and Fears
Ironically, cervical spinal stenosis targets a demographic most likely to have concerns about the use of what has often been portrayed as nothing but a “stoner” drug.
Often individuals in the age group most affected by the disease may not be very happy about using marijuana for any purpose, even a legitimate medical need.
However, the idea of medical marijuana has been around since at least 1970 and is rapidly gaining more and more legitimacy, so individuals shouldn’t feel nervous about using it.
In the US, Congress authorized one million dollars for a national commission to study marijuana in response to the drug’s rapidly rising popularity in 1970.
This was “The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse,” generally referred to as “The Shafer Commission” because it was headed by former Governor Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania.
Regarding marijuana policy, the Commission’s recommendation was to retain the prohibition against marijuana’s cultivation and sale but to eliminate state and federal criminal penalties for use and possession.
It was near the same time that government-appointed commissions in Britain, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands also concluded that the risks of marijuana use were too small to justify harsh criminal sanctions.
Sensible Medical Marijuana Use
Both patients and caregivers need to educate themselves about medical marijuana to understand the benefits and potential side effects of this medicine.
By being a sensible medical marijuana user and making informed decisions, you can both improve your health while helping change the way people think about the use of medical marijuana.
Guidelines for Sensible Use
1- Always listen to the advice of your doctor and use good judgment when using medical marijuana.
2- Carefully determine the amount of marijuana that is right for you. Start with a small amount and slowly increase your dosage to find the proper level of symptomatic relief.
3- Inform yourself about marijuana’s effects on yourself and others. These effects include legal and health risks, as well as potential personal consequences.
4- Clearly understand the benefits of marijuana and relief that its use provides you. Be able to explain your use to people who desire information.
5- Never use medical marijuana as an excuse or cue for antisocial or irresponsible behavior.
6- Avoid medical marijuana uses that puts you or others at risk, such as when driving, at work, or in public places.
7- Medical marijuana should contribute to, rather than detract from health, well-being, work, and relationships.
8- Always carry a copy of your physician’s recommendation or caregiver’s agreement and recommendation with your medical marijuana.
Like any drug, care and diligence are important in your use of medical marijuana.
There are also social and legal issues that are specific to marijuana, despite having a reasonably well-established status as a pain and nausea reliever.
As a result, use of marijuana for medical purposes requires both a measure of courage and caution at the same time.