You may be familiar with cannabidiol (CBD) and medical marijuana as alternative treatments for spondylitis pain or inflammation. However, many states have legalized marijuana (or cannabis) for recreational use as well. If you use marijuana recreationally, it’s important to know how to do it safely, legally, and without disrupting your current spondylitis treatment.
CBD products, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana are different in terms of their intended use and the laws that regulate them. Products containing CBD, a nonintoxicating molecule found in cannabis plants, are legal throughout the U.S.
THC, another molecule found in cannabis, is responsible for the psychoactive effects, or “high,” associated with cannabis. Marijuana products containing more than 0.3 percent THC are illegal at the federal level, but some states have passed laws that allow these products for recreational or medical use.
People use recreational marijuana for nonmedical purposes, such as fun, relaxation, enhanced creativity, or social interaction. Some states have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Licensed recreational cannabis dispensaries sell a variety of products, such as cannabis flowers, edibles, and concentrates. Different states have varying requirements for the minimum legal age for using marijuana, the amount you can purchase, and the types of products that can be sold.
Medical cannabis is used to treat specific medical conditions, such as chronic back pain, nausea, and epilepsy. You must have authorization from a licensed health care provider to use medical cannabis. Most states have medical cannabis programs for people with certain health conditions, but the laws about which medical conditions qualify differ between states.
Cannabis laws vary from state to state. Most states have legalized medical marijuana programs to treat certain qualifying health conditions. As of March 2023, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Research the laws in your state before you consume recreational or medical marijuana.
If you live in an area where recreational marijuana is illegal, you could risk arrest, fines, and imprisonment. In some states, it’s a crime to possess or consume marijuana without a valid medical recommendation. It’s also illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. Be sure you understand the legal rules around recreational marijuana use where you live.
Using marijuana, through either edibles or smoking, carries some potential health risks. These include:
Smoking cannabis can potentially damage your lungs and respiratory system due to the carcinogens released from combustion of materials, similar to tobacco smoke. Smoking cannabis has been associated with:
Additionally, vaping cannabis oils and concentrates may pose a risk to your respiratory health. The respiratory risks of inhaled cannabis can be particularly concerning for people with spondylitis, as some may already experience chest pain and breathing difficulties due to their condition.
MySpondylitisTeam members have questions about whether marijuana use can affect their condition. One member asked, “How many people are using marijuana for pain? And does it help?”
Early studies support the use of marijuana to ease chronic pain, although much more research is needed. Little research exists on marijuana and spondylitis specifically, but some MySpondylitisTeam members say marijuana has helped with their symptoms. One member wrote, “I use CBD in the mornings and marijuana in the evenings. It helps me immensely and immediately!”
One member reported a positive effect on their spondylitis pain: “I have been using marijuana in food and have made my own gummies. It does help with the mental symptoms and pain!”
Another had less success with marijuana for pain relief: “It helps my anxiety, if I choose to use it. Doesn’t help my pain. I wish it could.”
Many people living with spondylitis experience difficulty sleeping, and some members turn to marijuana as a potential sleep aid. One MySpondylitisTeam member shared, “I tried a new product at my cannabis dispensary and got the best sleep that I’ve had in years! I woke up and I was on my back, and normally, I never can sleep on my back. I have to say today is better than usual.”
However, the scientific research on cannabis and sleep has mixed results. Researchers are looking into the effect of THC on conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea, but more studies are needed to fully understand whether cannabis may help these conditions.
If you only use marijuana recreationally, it might not occur to you to tell your doctor when discussing spondylitis treatment. However, cannabis and cannabinoids can interact with other medications and affect how they work in the body. Some interactions can be dangerous, while others can cause minor side effects or make your prescribed medicine less effective.
Opioids, sedatives, benzodiazepines, and alcohol all depress the central nervous system. Combining them with cannabis can increase the risk of side effects like drowsiness and impaired coordination. Blood thinners, antidepressants, and other types of drugs may also interact with cannabinoids.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the potential for drug interactions with your other medications before using recreational marijuana.
If you go to a pain clinic, you may have to take a drug test to check for marijuana and other drugs in your system. Pain clinics often have strict regulations they must follow, and they may require drug testing as part of their policy. Additionally, some pain medications can be dangerous when mixed with cannabis or other substances.
One MySpondylitisTeam member shared, “In my state, we have recreational marijuana as well as medical marijuana. In my pain clinic, if we use cannabis, we are not allowed in the program. I have used it in the past, but now they test your urine. That sucks because it does help me!”
Be sure you understand all your health care provider’s regulations about marijuana before you begin a pain treatment plan.
If you buy marijuana for recreational purposes, find a legal source such as a licensed dispensary. Unregulated, illegal markets could sell counterfeit or low-quality products.
Choose a trustworthy source that conducts independent lab testing and has quality control processes to ensure the safety and potency of the product. Contaminants in cannabis could be particularly dangerous for people living with autoimmune conditions like spondylitis. Lab testing verifies the product is free of harmful contaminants, such as pesticides, mold, and heavy metals.
Many dispensaries carry products in different formulations from different manufacturers, and the dosing measurements between products and formulations may not be the same. Global health experts have developed some general recommendations providing guidance on how much THC and CBD to use when dosing for pain.
In general, health care providers are bound by patient confidentiality laws. This means they cannot disclose your private medical information, including illegal cannabis use, to law enforcement without your permission. However, there are a few circumstances in which doctors are required by law to report illegal cannabis use. For example, if they believe that you or someone else is in danger as a result of cannabis use, they may be required to report it.
Consider having an open and honest conversation with your doctor or health care provider about marijuana. They can offer valuable information about the potential risks and benefits, as well as help you understand how marijuana might interact with any other medications you’re taking or health conditions you have.
MySpondylitisTeam provides you with access to a community of more than 91,000 people living with spondylitis. They understand the challenges you may be facing and have found creative ways to cope.
Do you have questions about recreational marijuana and spondylitis? Have you spoken openly with your doctor about marijuana? Do you have any advice for others? Share your thoughts below in the comments or post on your Activities page.