Spinal patients turning to cannabis for pain relief, ditching traditional medication - study

Spinal patients are turning to cannabis as a way of treating and managing their pain, a new study has revealed.

Newshub's latest installment in the Because it Matters series reveals that the injured patients are ditching traditional medicines in favour of cannabis, according to the study.

Tracey Penney was hit by a car as a two-year-old, sustaining a 'C7 incomplete spinal cord injury', which paralysed her from the waist down. 

The now 31-year-old has used a wheelchair ever since, suffering excruciating nerve pain and muscle spasms throughout her life.

Penney was taking 14 painkillers, three times a day.

"We're talking tramadols, severidols, IV morphine, IV ketamine," she told Newshub.

That was until she discovered cannabis.

"Using marijuana and THC... it settles all the muscles," Penney explained.

She says smoking joints means she no longer needs the cocktail of prescription drugs she was once taking.

"For the last three to five years I have been on one pill and that's it," she said.

Marijuana has changed Penny's life - and she's not alone.

A study by the University of Otago and Burwood Academy of Independent Living interviewed eight spinal patients about their decision to source and use cannabis and its effects on their injuries. 

"They found the cannabis products they were using were more effective than the traditional medications they had before," researcher Jo Nunnerley told Newshub.

"They were effectively managing the pain with cannabis without nasty side effects."

Researchers found most patients only turned to cannabis as a last resort.

"They were quite worried they were using an illegal product but just felt the benefits outweighed the risk of the illegality of the products," said Nunnerley.

Rick Acland is a specialist in pain management and works with spinal patients. He's not surprised by the study's findings.

"A large number do use a cannabis products," he confirmed.

Although Acland doesn't recommend smoking cannabis to his patients, he's seeing benefits in them taking it in other forms.

"Generally there's a positive effect and it's not just in pain, it can be sleep, it can be spasticity and the other good aspect is that they don't escalate their dose," he explained.

These sentiments are echoed by spinal patient Sophia Malthus. She broke her neck falling off a thoroughbred racehorse three years ago.

A wheelchair user, Malthus suffers debilitating pain in her shoulders. She started taking one cannabis oil capsule a day and rubbing a cannabis-infused cream on her shoulders morning and night.

"When I put the cream on my shoulders it takes down the inflammation so I can get on with my life without ruining my shoulders," Malthus told Newshub.

It appears that cannabis is providing pain relief and a sense of normality for a number of New Zealand's spinal patients.