I knew something was seriously wrong the second I hit the pavement. I couldn’t properly move my right arm and there was this grinding sensation that I’ll never forget. Pain pulsated like bolts of lightning as damaged nerves screamed in outrage. For the first time in my life, I had broken a bone. I tripped and fell, landing on concrete. The result? A grade 5 fracture of my clavicle, torn ligaments, and a world of hurt. 

Off work and in pain, all I could think about was how to get better as quickly as possible. I started looking into broken bones and was surprised to find a lot of research surrounding cannabis. THC and CBD have been found to play a highly active role in the healing process. From my experience to you, here is what you need to know about fractures, our body’s response to them, and how cannabis can help.

How bones heal

The first response to a fracture, and often the most visibly shocking, is bleeding, as blood is made in the bone marrow. It clots and collects, providing a quick fix to fill the new crack. The area becomes swollen and inflamed, triggering an immune system response. Our system then sends stem cells, bone marrow, and even more blood to spring into action. These cells work to produce soft cartilage or callus, ultimately bridging the gap. As the injury heals, soft callus cells are replaced with harder ones – then by the even harder bone tissue. 

The entire process is easy to understand if you think about human development. Babies have softer bone tissue that hardens are they grow. Because of this, kids break bones fairly easily, but they also bounce back quickly.

Broken bones and smoking cigarettes 

Cigarettes are horrible for healing bones and multiple studies have confirmed it. The problem is simple: nicotine. Broken bones need a lot of blood flow to transport what’s needed for repair. Nicotine has a constricting effect on our blood vessels, slowing down the entire process. Imagine your blood vessels are a highway and your cells are workers constructing on a deadline. When the highway narrows, they can’t get to work and production slows down. Plain and simple; and that’s before we start talking about how bad cigarettes are for you in general.

Smoking cannabis 

Unlike nicotine, cannabis dilates blood vessels, promoting blood flow – plus, it can do a lot more than that. Along with relieving pain, cannabis can accelerate the healing process. In the case of a pain flare-up, inhalation is the fastest acting. However, the bioavailability of the lungs is quite low compared to other parts of the body, and therefore inhaling cannabis is not the most efficient way to ingest your cannabinoids. Not to mention, rolling a joint is not always possible, and smoking it might make you cough, which depending on your injury, might cause you a fair bit of pain.

It’s a matter of weighing risks, and the best thing to do ultimately is to talk to your doctor. Every broken bone is different, so trust the professionals. Ask about it before you fire up a joint.

CBD

Along with relieving pain, cannabis can accelerate the healing process. Thanks to multiple studies, scientists agree that cannabinoids are good for bones, especially if you have a fracture. Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD has been shown to:

  • speed up the healing time by promoting cartilage production
  • increase volume and thickness by encouraging enzyme production
  • regulate metabolism to preserve bone density

Edibles

Eating cannabis is the way to go when you’ve broken something. Pain is regulated by our CB1 and CB2 receptors. It so happens that we have tons of them in our gut. Think of that pot cookie like a carrier – releasing medicine along your GI tract as you digest it. On top of that, those cannabinoids will enter your bloodstream to make their way to your central nervous system. From there, cannabis can help to lessen the severity of the pain signals being sent from the broken bone.

Topicals

Applied topically, cannabis can lessen the intensity of the pain signals sent to the brain. When used in combination with edibles, it’s easy to saturate both our peripheral and central nervous systems. Pain relief and therapeutic effects can be surprisingly effective.

Falling through the cracks

Cannabis may be legal in Canada, sure, but it’s not exactly accessible for all. If you are a recreational user, you can find something any day of the week – though supply issues have been a problem. But for medical patients with permanent conditions, access is under fire. Full stop. To date, illicit medical dispensaries have been the only places supplying the wide variety needed to serve patients, with all types of conditions – but those same dispensaries have been the target of government raids over, and over again.

The only thing that has protected these dispensaries has been the fact that they operate medically. Constitutionally, they had been under a degree of protection based on precedent-setting court decisions, referencing section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as R v. Smith, and Allard et al, v. Regina. But even with these decisions in place, the federal government has continued to try and find new ways to shut them down.

Prior to legalization, dispensaries, in the Metro Vancouver area, for example, operated under the watchful eye of the provincial government, and through business licenses and zoning were largely allowed to carry on unencumbered. Following legalization, however, these businesses were deemed illegal, leaving them in a grey zone. If a patient did, however, make their way to a compassion club, or grey market medicinal dispensary, in order to successfully be able to purchase medication, they would need to have a permanent physical condition. Come again? As limiting and arbitrary as that may sound, it did offer some security, but at the same time, that is ridiculous.

Herein lies the problem. Given the right circumstances, broken bones should heal, and we know that cannabis helps with not only the healing process but with the pain itself. Unfortunately, if you have a temporary illness or an injury in general that could benefit from medical cannabis, there is nowhere for you to access it. A compassion club won’t be able to help because doing so puts them at risk, and a recreational store simply can’t provide what is needed. When we look at what cannabis works best, and most efficiently, we are looking at edibles and topicals, but when it comes to a broken bone, a 10mg dose isn’t going to do squat.  

References:

Tobacco and bone fractures

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609869/

Bone Joint Res. 2019 Jun; 8(6): 255–265.

Published online 2019 Jul 5.

Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in Osteoblasts.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25801536

J Bone Miner Res. 2015 Oct;30(10):1905-13. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2513. Epub 2015 May 10.

Cannabidiol decreases bone resorption by inhibiting RANK/RANKL expression and pro-inflammatory cytokines during experimental periodontitis in rats.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19070683

Int Immunopharmacol. 2009 Feb;9(2):216-22. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2008.11.010. Epub 2008 Dec 12.

Regulation of cannabinoid CB1 receptors in the central nervous system by chronic cannabinoids.

Sim-Selley LJ1.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14977366

Crit Rev Neurobiol. 2003;15(2):91-119.