A Patient's Relief From Scoliosis Pain Using Cannabis

October 05, 2017 | SimoneFischer

Patient profile: Xianna Marcus


I sat down this month with Portland OMMP patient Xianna Marcus to talk about how she uses Cannabis to treat scoliosis. This medical condition, in which the spine has a sideways curve, affects more than three million people per year.

Marcus was diagnosed with scoliosis at 15 years old after a physical exam required for volleyball, she endured surgery that same year.

“I didn’t know I had it until I got a physical exam while I was trying to join organized sports. When the physician was checking my spine, she asked if I had scoliosis. I replied no, and she sent me to a specialist. After an X-ray, it showed I had a spinal curvature at 64 degrees. It never bothered me until I wanted to be more active with sports. Running hurt because I didn’t realize I had scoliosis.”

Soon after Marcus was diagnosed with scoliosis, she had a spinal fusion in 2007. For those who aren’t familiar with a spinal fusion, it’s a lengthy, major surgery during which metal implants are used to hold vertebrae until new bones grow between them. Marcus tried things like massage therapy but she still couldn’t exercise without being in pain.

“The spinal fusion was a really invasive orthopedic surgery. When I started talking with my surgeon on the whole process, I didn’t understand as a kid how serious a spinal fusion was—or the aftermath and lengthy healing process. It was really scary after the surgery.

I thought I was mentally prepared, but the recovery was a lot more intense than I expected,” she said.


“My mom wouldn’t let me hold anything heavier than a plate. I lost a ton of weight and I couldn’t eat anything—my appetite was non-existent from the pills [opiates].”

Originally, she wanted to join a sports team with her friends, but Marcus didn’t realize the physical or mental cost of the spinal fusion procedure.

Marcus was prescribed OxyContin and plenty of stool softeners. Her hospital stay lasted seven days after the procedure, and she was on opiates for a month to deal with the pain.

It wasn’t until college that Marcus was properly introduced to Cannabis. Marcus used Cannabis casually in high school, but the stresses of college made her a more serious user.

“I love college because it stressed me out so much, it introduced me to smoking weed. I went to the University of Oregon, and Eugene has a really cool Cannabis community. It’s easy for me to go to the doctor and get pretty much whatever prescription I want because of my scoliosis. But I knew I didn’t want to go down that road again,” Marcus said.

“Weed was the only thing in college that got me to the next day. I loved feeling not hungover so I could make it to my classes. I didn’t realize it then, but Cannabis was helping my anxiety and depression. I also noticed I was sleeping better when I’d smoke at night—which was so relieving. Cannabis helped me bounce back from excessive drinking. I feel like there is a negative façade about being a stoner, especially as a woman. I got a lot of shit from the girls I lived with about my use.”

Commonly, people move from casual and social use of Cannabis into conscious and medicinal use.

Marcus’ initial use was social, but once she began noticing significant relief, she started looking into seriously using Cannabis to treat her chronic pain.

Additionally, women often face a double standard when it comes to using Cannabis—especially among peers. It’s the pressure of the patriarchy telling us the “ideal” woman doesn’t and shouldn’t smoke. The social stigma of Cannabis still prevents people from realizing its medicinal benefits.

“I don’t view Cannabis as a substance. I can substitute Cannabis for something I depend on to function. Cannabis is way healthier than anything that’s advertised legally. You have to find hobbies and healthy ways to cope with the pain,” Marcus said.

Marcus has already been down the road of opiates as a minor, when she endured a spinal fusion. Marcus still deals with residual spinal pain, but she is able to get through most days with the help of Cannabis. Standing for long periods of time or demanding physical labor can bother her spine, causing an “irritable” pain.

I asked her what she would recommend to someone looking to treat their scoliosis with Cannabis.

“For scoliosis patients—being uncomfortable all the time makes us irritable. Edibles are my favorite way to treat the pain. I use mostly full extract cannabis oil (FECO) and vaping CBD. About 50mg of THC works for me and I try to use as much CBD as possible. It’s not about being ‘ripped’ per se, it’s about being comfortable. I love high sativa and high-CBD strains, because I am functional while controlling my pain,” Marcus said.

Cannabis provides patients with long-term chronic pain management, without the risk of developing an addiction, unlike opiates. Marcus has an immense work ethic and holds down two jobs despite dealing with pain from scoliosis.

Cannabis, plenty of deep stretching and being active is how Marcus manages her pain. Insurance does not cover Cannabis-related costs, so everything has to come out-of-pocket. Marcus believes you must find other ways to deal with pain beyond Cannabis, or even opiates, if you use them.

“Keeping yourself medicated isn’t always affordable. I feel like finding ways to heal outside of getting high is also really important. Stretching, getting a full night’s rest and being active are all a part of the healing process.”

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