Is Cannabis an Effective Treatment Method for Arthritis?

There are some illnesses where marijuana gets a gold star, pulled into the front row and deemed “teacher’s pet” by its jealous peers (or teacher’s pot). One of these is a common malady. Cannabis is particularly effective for those who ail from arthritis.

What Arthritis Entails

Per the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis isn’t a single disease; rather, it’s an umbrella term that encompasses joint pain and joint disease. Technically, arthritis is more than 100 different types of disease and the related conditions. One of these conditions affects 50 million adults and 30,000 children.

Though men are certainly afflicted, arthritis is more common in women (and its incidence increases as people age)

Some of the most common symptoms include swelling, pain, decreased range of motion, and stiffness. These symptoms can range from minor – a nuisance that comes and goes – to severe – a major interference with everyday life. Severe arthritis

Some of the subtypes of arthritis include degenerative arthritis (the most common type where the cartilage wears away); inflammatory arthritis (when the immune system attacks the joints, mistaking them for threats); infectious arthritis (a bacterium, fungus, or virus sneaks inside the joint and triggers inflammation); and metabolic arthritis (this type occurs in people whose bodies produces higher rates of uric acid than they need).

The Treatment for Arthritis

There are few different types of treatment employed to relieve the symptoms of arthritis (and prevent it from worsening). These treatments aim to preserve as much joint function as possible, allow people to be as mobile as comfortable, and improve the quality of life.

Some things are not medicinal – exercise is beneficial to the arthritic. Maintaining a healthy weight is as well (extra pounds worsen the underlying issues by putting more pressure on the joints). And some people find anti-inflammatory diets beneficial too.

In regards to pills, and prescription medication work for some people. Others don’t find much relief (or don’t want to rely on painkillers). This is where cannabis comes in: its duality eases pain and calms the immune system.

Cannabis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Cannabis is particularly effective for rheumatoid arthritis (also known as inflammatory arthritis). The reason for this? Marijuana’s ability to fight inflammation.

Inflammation isn’t bad under normal circumstances: acute inflammation, as you’d experience when you scrape your knee and the wound swells, is good. It signals your body to fight off infection and repair tissue.  Chronic
scraped knee, arthritis inflammation, on the other hand, is overkill: it’s your body overreacting to a risk when that risk either doesn’t exist or doesn’t warrant the cavalry. Inflammation that continues unchecked damages the tissue it’s supposed to repair and this leads to symptoms (like pain) and well as other problems (like disease).

People with rheumatoid arthritis have the chronic type of inflammation; their bodies are overwhelmed by this unnecessary response.

The Science Behind the Cannabis/Inflammation Link

Google “cannabis” and “inflammation” and you’ll get plenty of returns – both people who’ve experienced reduced pain, research that backs their statements and suggested strains like Cinex for pain management.

In fact, a 2014 University of South Carolina study found that THC calms the immune system and deactivates inflammatory proteins. That’s why THC is used to treat all sorts of autoimmune disorders including lupus, colitis, and arthritis. But CBD plays a role too.

A 2003 study looked at CBD’s effect on rats with conditions designed to mimic arthritis. They found that CBD decreased inflammation in a dose-dependent manner (the higher the dose, the more the inflammation decreased). This inflammation continued to decrease after three consecutive days of treatment.

They surmised that this impact was a result of the body’s endocannabinoid system, a system of cell receptors that influence all sorts of bodily function. It plays a role in the immune system, pain, appetite, mood, and the ability to stay or fall asleep.

The cannabinoids in cannabis interact with the endocannabinoid system and alter the way the body functions

A study published in Rheumatology found that those with rheumatoid arthritis actually had more CB2 cannabinoid receptors (involved in inflammation control) in their endocannabinoid system than those who were afflicted with the other types of arthritis.

cannabis for arthritis THC and CBD both engage CB2 receptors. THC directly impacts it, causing an anti-inflammatory response. CBD’s impact is more round about: it increases the number of endocannabinoids in the body, compounding THC’s ability to do its job.

Of course, several studies suggest that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties even in the absence of THC. A 2006 study conducted at the University of Milano-Bicocca found that rodents treated with CBD had a reduction of pain signals and inflammatory markers. This led them to conclude that CBD has the potential to treat chronic pain both with THC and when flying solo.

Cannabis and Bone Health

Bone health becomes more important as we age: our bones grow weak and fragile. Luckily, cannabis might prevent this, at least later in life.

A study conducted at the University of Edinburgh found that, in the bid for the bone, marijuana possessed both good and bad traits:

Cannabis could potentially reduce bone strength in young people, but it might protect against osteoporosis in older folks

CB1 is a key to the development of osteoporosis. In the above study, researchers found that cannabis increased the rate at which bone tissue was destroyed in young mice, but decreased bone loss in older mice. It also prevented the accumulation of fat in bones (something that is common in people with osteoporosis).

While this is a step in the right direction, researchers are careful to say that the results are early. The mice-to-human translation isn’t always direct either.

Nonetheless, osteoporosis is common in the elderly (and sometimes younger people). While only about 12 percent of men are affected, more than 30 percent of women are. Its dangers are most evident with increased age – breaking bones (particularly hips) can lead to other more severe medical conditions. Thus, the potential of cannabis to prevent this excites the medical field (and the aging (i.e. all of us)). Tell your Nana to forget about her hard candies, cannabis is where it’s at.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.