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Using cannabis for pain management after spinal cord injury: a qualitative study

  • Bourke, John A.1, 2
  • Catherwood, Victoria J.3
  • Nunnerley, Joanne L.1, 4
  • Martin, Rachelle A.1, 5
  • Levack, William M. M.5
  • Thompson, Bronwyn L.4
  • Acland, Richard H.1
  • 1 Burwood Academy of Independent Living, Christchurch, New Zealand , Christchurch (New Zealand)
  • 2 Griffith University, Menzies Health Institute, Queensland, Australia , Queensland (Australia)
  • 3 University of Otago, School of Medicine, Christchurch, New Zealand , Christchurch (New Zealand)
  • 4 University of Otago, Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, Christchurch, New Zealand , Christchurch (New Zealand)
  • 5 University of Otago, Rehabilitation Teaching and Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Wellington, New Zealand , Wellington (New Zealand)
Published Article
Spinal Cord Series and Cases
Nature Publishing Group UK
Publication Date
Oct 08, 2019
DOI: 10.1038/s41394-019-0227-3
Springer Nature


Study designA descriptive qualitative study.ObjectivesTo explore why individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) choose to use cannabis to manage their pain and their experiences in doing so.SettingCommunity-dwelling adults with SCI in New Zealand.MethodsSemi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals who had a SCI, experienced pain, and self-reported use of cannabis to manage their pain. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and subject to thematic analysis.ResultsEight individuals participated in this study. We interpreted six themes that captured the participants’ perspectives regarding their choice to, and perceptions of, using cannabis to manage SCI pain. Participants were motivated to use cannabis when other pain management strategies had been ineffective and were well-informed, knowledgeable cannabis consumers. Participants reported cannabis reduced their pain quickly and enabled them to engage in activities of daily living and participate in life roles without the drowsiness of traditional prescribed pain medication. Despite the positive aspects, participants were concerned about the irregularity of supply and inconsistent dosage.ConclusionsFindings show that cannabis is used to reduce pain after SCI and enable increased community participation. Findings suggest that future studies examining the efficacy of cannabinoids in managing pain include function and participation outcome measures rather than solely focusing on measuring pain intensity. Focusing on meaningful outcomes may contribute to a greater understanding of the experiences of people with SCI.

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