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

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Study design

A descriptive qualitative study.


To explore why individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) choose to use cannabis to manage their pain and their experiences in doing so.


Community-dwelling adults with SCI in New Zealand.


Semi-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.


Eight 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.


Findings 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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The research team would like to thank the person with SCI who advised on aspects of this study.

Author information

All authors apart from WM were involved in the study design. JN, JB and VC were responsible for the data collection. All authors were involved in the data analysis. JB was responsible for the first draft the paper and all authors contributed to further edits and iterations of the paper.

Correspondence to John A. Bourke.

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Bourke, J.A., Catherwood, V.J., Nunnerley, J.L. et al. Using cannabis for pain management after spinal cord injury: a qualitative study. Spinal Cord Ser Cases 5, 82 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41394-019-0227-3

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