Back pain is one of the most common types of pain experienced by just about everyone. It’s estimated that 80% of people in the U.S. will experience some kind of back pain over the course of their lifetime. Lower back pain is the most common with 31 million Americans experiencing it at any given time.
And so it comes as no surprise that many Americans want to know what’s best for back pain. In many cases, doctors prescribe prescription opioid painkillers, which are intended for short-term use. These opioids can help with back pain, but they come with a litany of side effects such as constipation and nausea. As well, they are highly addictive. Meanwhile, over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can also bring on a host of issues such as stomach ulcers, liver or kidney problems and high blood pressure.
Three Major Kinds of Back Pain
Back pain normally falls within three major categories: axial, referred and radicular pain.
Axial pain, which is also called mechanical pain, can vary greatly based on the case; it can be dull or sharp and can exist constantly or come and go. The most common source of axial back pain is muscle strain, which occurs when muscles are torn or stretched to an extreme.
Referred pain is often a dull and achy pain that tends to move around the back and body. Referred pain, which can vary in intensity, occurs away from the direct source of the pain. For example, referred pain can occur in the hips and thighs when there’s a problem like degenerative disc disease in the lower back.
You may know radicular pain by another name: sciatica. It’s a deep and intense pain that follows nerve pathways into your extremities, and it can lead to numbness and weakness. Radicular pain is often caused by inflammation, compression or an injury, usually to the root of the spinal nerve.
Studies Show Marijuana Can Help With Back Pain
Wondering what can help with back pain? Following are two studies that point to marijuana as being helpful with reducing chronic pain, which can of course include back pain.
A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that cannabis could help reduce chronic pain in men and women. The subjects were administered three different marijuana potencies at different times during the study. The strengths were rotated with a placebo, and none of the subjects knew what they were taking at any given point during the study. Pain was measured by patients on a 10-point pain scale.
There was an average of a one-point reduction in pain by patients who took the highest potency of cannabis. Though these results are modest, they were still considered successful because most strains of marijuana are much more potent in their percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Another study in December 2014 by the College of Family Physicians of Canada recommended that patients with chronic pain smoke cannabis. It stated that patients with severe neuropathic pain conditions could find relief in cannabis if they hadn’t had adequate responses to other medications.
The paper also stated that the recommended maximum dose of cannabis that a patient should consume in one day is one inhalation, four times a day, which is roughly 400 mg a day of 9% THC cannabis. Though the guidelines are fairly vague, it does back up anecdotal evidence that higher-THC consumption is best for chronic pain.
Best Marijuana Strains for Back Pain
Each cannabis strain works differently for everyone, but often THC-heavy strains are best to combat pain. Don’t discount cannabidiol (CBD) though, as it’s extremely helpful at reducing inflammation, which could also help decrease your back pain.
It’s also important to be aware that higher-percentage THC strains have more psychoactive effects. Some people find it useful to take a strain lower in THC during the day and then something higher in THC in the evening, right before bedtime. The key is finding which marijuana strains, consumption method and dosage work best in easing your back pain.
Here are some of our top picks of marijuana strains that have been shown to be effective at relieving back pain.
Headband is a hybrid of OG Kush and Sour Diesel. This particular marijuana strain contains 20–27% THC and less than 1% CBD. Headband is particularly helpful at easing muscle strains and relieving general pain. It’s also known for its long-lasting effects, though keep in mind that it’s a very potent strain.
Candyland is a sativa-dominant hybrid of Granddaddy Purple and Bay Platinum Cookies. Candyland is effective at reducing pain, including back pain, and muscle tension with uplifting and stimulating side effects. Candyland is also known to relieve stress and fatigue. Also a potent strain, it has high levels of THC, at roughly 24%, and it has about 1% of both CBD and CBN.
OG Kush is indica-dominant and is known for its high levels of THC. OG Kush is helpful at relieving back pain and muscle spasms. It has about 23% THC and only about 1% CBD. OG Kush is also one of the more psychoactive strains of cannabis on the market.
Bubba Kush is an indica with 14–22% THC and 0.06–0.1% CBD. Bubba Kush is believed to be a hybrid of Northern Lights and OG Kush through an accidental pollination. Bubba Kush is helpful at easing muscle tension, including the kind associated with back pain, and decreasing stress.
Skywalker OG is an indica-dominant hybrid of Skywalker and OG Kush. Skywalker OG is known for its effectiveness at reducing pain symptoms and decreasing physical limitations caused by pain.
ACDC is a sativa-dominant hybrid that’s has a CBD:THC ratio of 20:1. This cannabis strain has about 16–24% CBD and just 0.4–1.2% THC. ACDC is particularly helpful in reducing back pain with no psychoactive side effects.
If you’re still not sure which marijuana strain could help you with your back pain, head over to our Answers page. There you can read answers on cannabis for back pain, and you can also connect with a doctor and our well-informed community who will respond to your questions.
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.