Marijuana and Bone Health: Can Weed Treat Osteoporosis?

Those of us who grew up in the eighties and nineties probably remember the “Milk…it does a body good” commercials (pass it on!). Cow’s milk has since grown controversial (but, hey, what hasn’t) with some people believing milk might come with more drawbacks than benefits.

Still, at the heart of the campaign was our bones – calcium helps keep them strong; ergo, milk can offer a “bone”-us.

This is important because one of the biggest things that influence bone health is the amount of calcium in your diet: diets with low calcium put you at risk for early bone loss (which puts you at risk for fractures).

Milk is good for the bonesCalcium isn’t the only factor – things like physical exercise, alcohol use, smoking or chewing tobacco, eating disorders (like anorexia), and certain medications (such as certain steroids), and unstable hormone levels all play a role. Of course, there are many things that we can’t control that also contribute to the risk. Gender (bone loss is more common in women), race (bone loss is more common in Asians and Caucasians), and age (the older you get, the greater the risk) also play a role.

Size matters too, but not in the way you might think. In most diseases, being overweight ups the risk. In bone loss, the opposite is true: people with low BMIs are more susceptible.

In other words, there are numerous things that impact bones. But is cannabis one of them? Or does it actually help restore osteo health?

Osteoporosis, Explained

When we think of bone loss, we often think of osteoporosis. This is a disease where the bones weaken and grow extremely susceptible to breaking. The weakening itself isn’t the danger – in healthy people, bone tissue breaks down and then gets replaced. But in people with osteoporosis, this replacement doesn’t happen quick enough. The bones lose their density and grow fragile.

Osteoporosis increases the odds that you’ll sustain a fracture if you fall or suffer from impact trauma. But in very severe cases, fractures can happen for seemingly no reason at all. The hip, back, and wrist are usually the weakest bones.

Osteoporosis affects the bonesEarly on, you may have osteoporosis and not know it without a bone density or other medical test to tell you. As the disease progresses, symptoms do appear, often subtly at first. The more common ones include pain in the affected area, a posture that grows stooped, a bone that breaks from little force, and even a loss of height.

Like many diseases, the risk of osteoporosis lies in what you’ve done in your past. The bones are typically strongest when we’re young (late teens or early twenties). After this, we begin to lose bone mass. If we developed more mass in our youth, we can afford to lose it as we age. If we didn’t, we’re more susceptible to problems as we grow old. Still, the highest risk comes not in the thirties or forties but beyond (though we can experience it at any age). Most women are affected by menopause when estrogen levels drop.

Because of this, estrogen is a treatment, yet it comes with risk. Too much estrogen puts a woman at risk for certain cancers (especially breast and endometrial), heart disease, and blood clots.

But what about Mary Jane? Can she help the Peggy Sues and Betty Lous of the world?

Cannabis and Bone Health

Bone metabolism is influenced by cannabis (or, more specifically, how cannabinoids play into the endocannabinoid system). Too few cannabinoid receptors can leave you more prone to osteoporosis just as it can slow the bone regeneration rate, setting the stage for osteoporosis.

All of this leaves cannabis as an ally to our bones – since it interacts with cannabinoid receptors, it’s believed to influence everything from bone building to bone reabsorption.

Cannabis is medicineThat’s not all it does – it also releases norepinephrine, which helps facilitate bone health.  Norepinephrine is a chemical that functions as a hormone and neurotransmitter. Studies have also found that cannabinoids help encourage the body to produce bone cells, which has scientists curious about the role of pot in treating osteoporosis.

A study published in the National Institutes of Health reported the following:

“The CB1 receptor is present mainly in skeletal sympathetic nerve terminals, thus regulating the adrenergic tonic restraint of bone formation. CB2 is expressed in osteoblasts and osteoclasts, stimulates bone formation, and inhibits bone resorption. Because low bone mass is the only spontaneous phenotype so far reported in CB2 mutant mice, it appears that the main physiologic involvement of CB2 is associated with maintaining bone remodeling at balance, thus protecting the skeleton against age-related bone loss. Indeed, in humans, polymorphisms in CNR2, the gene encoding CB2, are strongly associated with postmenopausal osteoporosis. Preclinical studies have shown that a synthetic CB2-specific agonist rescues ovariectomy-induced bone loss. Taken together, the reports on cannabinoid receptors in mice and humans pave the way for the development of 1) diagnostic measures to identify osteoporosis-susceptible polymorphisms in CNR2, and 2) cannabinoid drugs to combat osteoporosis.”

Despite this, no states have approved medical marijuana for osteoporosis (so far), though some states have a blanket approval for any disease that interferes with the quality of life.

On the Other Hand

Cannabis – in terms of bone health– is best used in moderation.

One study found that heavy marijuana users have lower bone density than those who smoke it. This study classified heavy use as smoking more than “5,000” times but added that most in the study had smoked nearly ten times as much. The study also found that marijuana users had lower BMIs, which could account for the lower bone density. About half were also tobacco users.

Despite its imperfections (as all studies have flaws), the takeaway isn’t necessarily bad: everything in moderation is a saying for a reason.

Marijuana and Bone Health: Can Weed Treat Osteoporosis? was last modified: by
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.