Whether you call the medicines found at Utah pharmacies Medical Cannabis or Medical Marijuana, a recently published study out of Israel supports using medical marijuana for back pain treatment, specifically chronic lower back pain. The study is just the latest in a steady stream of research showing that cannabis can be used effectively as a medicine.
Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints heard by doctors around the world. According to a Jerusalem Post story discussing the Israeli study, 80% of people worldwide experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. For many patients, the pain is chronic.
That matters to us because chronic and acute pain are both on Utah’s qualifying conditions list for Medical Cannabis. Chronic lower back pain would certainly fit the bill. If you live in Utah and have been frustrated in your efforts to find relief from chronic lower back pain, perhaps it’s time to see a Qualified Medical Provider (QMP) and have a Medical Cannabis discussion.
The study in question was definitely a small-scale study. It enrolled just 24 participants – 17 men and seven women. All participants suffered from either disc herniation or spinal stenosis. Researchers decided to test two delivery methods to learn whether they influence efficacy.
Patients were first given a Medical Cannabis tincture. If you are not familiar with tinctures, they are concentrated oils that are placed under the tongue for sublingual delivery. The second delivery method was smoking cannabis flower.
The sublingual treatment was provided to patients for 10 months. Patients then took a month off before beginning the inhalation treatment for 12 months. Interestingly enough, patients didn’t report any significant relief with the tincture. But after 10 months of smoking cannabis, 80% reported significant pain relief.
The extremely small-scale nature of the Israeli study makes it difficult to draw concrete conclusions from it. But we do have relevant data from other sources, showing similar relief.
For example, the Jerusalem Post also mentioned a North American survey involving 1,000 adults who used cannabis. Some 58% reported consuming marijuana for back pain relief and treatment. Among them:
The most important statistic from the North American survey is the 58% of respondents who said they use cannabis do so to relieve back pain. They would not be using it if it didn’t work.
We encourage anyone suffering from chronic pain to talk with a medical provider about the possibility of using Medical Cannabis. Here in Utah, there are two different types of providers capable of helping patients obtain their Medical Cannabis cards.
We have already mentioned QMPs. These are providers who have undergone the necessary training to be certified by the state. They can recommend Medical Cannabis to hundreds of patients. The other provider is the Limited Medical Provider (LMP).
An LMP can be any doctor, advanced practice nurse, or orthopedist with prescribing authority in the state. LMPs can recommend Medical Cannabis to up to 15 patients. Your doctor can act as your LMP as long as they are willing and has not already reached the 15-patient limit.
As always, remember that Utah’s Medical Cannabis law is very strict. You must have a Medical Cannabis card to consume in the state, and all cannabis you do consume must be bought from a Utah Medical Cannabis Pharmacy. Note that smoking is prohibited here. You will have to try other delivery methods.
One of the things we most appreciate about being in the cannabis industry is the research now being done. As Medical Cannabis has spread across the country, a lot of people in our industry are putting a ton of time and effort into really getting to know the plant in ways that were previously unknown. That insatiable desire has led to the discovery of additional cannabinoids, including THCP.
If you follow cannabis research, you might already be familiar with THCP. If not, the first thing you should know is that it is one of more than a hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. What makes this cannabinoid so interesting is that, as far as we can tell, it was completely unknown until 2019.
Some of its distinct properties could make THCP an ideal candidate for Medical Cannabis. In fact, it was first discovered in a Medical Cannabis strain out of Italy, a strain known as FM2. We think it might have considerable potential for pain relief. More research would be necessary to know for sure though.
So, what makes THCP unique? Its carbon side chain. Without getting too technical, Delta-9 THC is the cannabinoid we commonly refer to as ‘THC‘. Part of its molecular structure is a carbon side chain. THC’s carbon side chain consists of five molecules. THCP’s chain is seven molecules.
Why does this make a difference? Because the molecular structure of a particular cannabinoid partly determines how it affects the endocannabinoid system. We could look at another example like THCV. Its carbon side chain is only three molecules long. It has the ability to block the CB1 receptor, whereas THC activates the receptor.
At the current time, we don’t have definitive proof that THCP would be an ideal pain medication. But there is reason to suspect that this might be the case. We just need research to verify one way or the other. If it turns out the THCP is effective, the industry will have to decide how to move forward with producing it.
THCP occurs naturally in cannabis plants. But right now, we do not know of a single strain that produces enough of it to make extracting it from plant material worthwhile. The good news is that THCP can be synthesized in the lab, just like Delta-8.
By now you are probably wondering how THCP can be synthesized. For that, we turn to a compound known as CBGA, a.k.a. the “mother of all cannabinoids.” All 100+ cannabinoids extracted from plant material begin as CBGA. They are converted into cannabinoid acids through the plant’s normal growth processes. Manufacturers produce things like CBD and THC by decarboxylating their acid precursors.
All this is to say that the industry has figured out how to take CBD and convert it to other cannabinoids in the lab. It is easier and more cost-effective to produce cannabinoids like THCP and Delta-8 from CBD rather than trying to come up with strains that naturally produce high volumes on their own.
We have a lot to learn about THCP and most of the other cannabinoids in the beloved plant. THCP could eventually turn out to be an incredibly good pain medication. Right now, we are still in the learning stages. We encourage you to join us and keep an eye on industry research. We should know more about THCP soon enough.
White House drugs czar Rahul Gupta gave an interesting interview in late May 2022, an interview in which he reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to cannabis reform. According to Gupta, the president is fully behind developing the medical benefits of cannabis while taking an integral approach to reform. But the most interesting aspect of the interview was this: it amplified the conundrum of cannabis research.
Gupta acknowledged that Medical Cannabis does demonstrate recognizable benefits for patients. He mentioned its ability to help manage chronic pain. He even discussed Medical Cannabis as being better for pain management than opioids. But then he reminded the audience that marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance because the federal government does not acknowledge that it has any known medical benefits.
Here is the conundrum: researchers have an exceedingly challenging time doing comprehensive studies due to marijuana’s status under federal law. But without cannabis research, there is no way to definitively prove medical benefit. Researchers have been struggling with this issue for decades.
Although the drug czar did not come out and say it directly, his comments implied that the White House doesn’t want to get directly involved with marijuana reform. Rather, it would be better for Congress to step in and do what needs to be done. If you believe in small government and limiting executive branch overreach, it is hard to argue that point.
What has so many cannabis proponents frustrated is the fact that promises of reform have been offered for years. Our best chances came when Biden took the White House in January 2021. With both the Executive and Legislative branches under Democrat control, we were supposed to have a marijuana reform bill signed into law by now. But some 18 months after Biden’s inauguration, we still aren’t any closer. Even more frustrating is the realization that time appears to be running out.
Even if a comprehensive reform bill doesn’t make it to the president’s desk by the end of 2022, Congress should at least do something to loosen the reins on cannabis research. This is assuming that the incremental approach to reform is the best way to go. An incremental approach would see marijuana rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule II. That would at least create a more open environment for researching its medical benefits.
Anecdotally, we know that chronic pain patients routinely report pain relief as a result of using Medical Cannabis. We even have some small-scale studies confirming those reports. In fact, one of the most recently published studies comes out of Israel. It shows that low-dose THC can offer long term pain relief through aerosolized inhalation.
The bottom line is that we need more research. And to get it, we need to take steps to encourage it. The current conundrum only prevents cannabis research through a closed regulatory loop that seems impossible to break without Congressional action. While lawmakers try to figure it out at the federal level, patients need to jump through hoops at the state level to get their hands on Medical Cannabis.
We are reasonably confident that reform will eventually come. In the meantime, cannabis research may continue to be thwarted by federal policy. We will be here for you, nonetheless.
If you are interested in getting your Utah Medical Cannabis Card, feel free to visit any one of our clinics throughout the state. We can help guide you through the application process and provide the medical evaluation you need to get your card.