Can Cannabis Help with Arthritis?

As we age we start to feel a lot more of our bodies’ aches and pains. One of the most prominent concerns for an aging population is arthritis, as nearly 5 million Canadians report having arthritis, with figures growing to 7.5 million by 2036.

While there’s no cure for arthritis, treatment can be extremely expensive and ineffective. Some people find that the drugs they are taking can be worse than the disease itself.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely tried everything possible to help with your arthritis pain, but nothing seems to help. Thankfully, new research and data suggest that cannabis can be the effective treatment you have been looking for.

In the area of cannabinoid research, scientists believe that cannabis may show potential as an alternative to prescription medication for sufferers of arthritis, and more specifically both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, the two most common forms. This is certainly welcome news to the many who struggle with the unpleasant side effects associated with these conditions.

Endocannabinoid System – how does cannabis help?

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a term for the body’s complex network of cell receptors and molecules that modulate everything from mood, sleep, appetite, motor control, the immune system and pain, and inflammation.

The ECS comprises two main types of receptors: the CB1 receptors which are found mostly in the central nervous system and the CB2 receptors in body’s immune cells, gastrointestinal tract, and in the peripheral nervous system.

CB2 receptors are the most important therapeutic target for Rheumatoid Arthritis as they are connected with inflammation. A recent study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that therapies target at the CB2 receptors can be developed for the management of chronic inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis.

While Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, osteoarthritis is strongly tied to aging and excessive wear and tear. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that protects bones and joints slowly wears away. It appears that CB1 receptors are also important in these cases.

In 2009, researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that the effects of cannabis change dramatically with age. The study has found that although cannabis could reduce bone strength in young people, it may protect against osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones, in later life. This is a great sign for those with age-related osteoarthritis since loss of cartilage is the primary culprit behind osteoarthritis.

The scientists noticed that when they treated mice with a compound that activated the CB1 receptor, bone loss slowed down in older, aging mice. Essentially, the compound prevented excess fat accumulation in the bone, which prevented bone material from degrading.

A natural anti-inflammatory solution?

Cannabis can be a perfect natural alternative since the ECS is crucial in controlling pain and inflammation, and may protect against bone degradation. Scientists and researchers are taking note.

Canadian researcher Dr. Jason McDougall, a professor of pharmacology and anesthesia at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has undertaken a study to find out if medical marijuana can help repair arthritic joints and relieve pain. He is currently using a three-year research grant from the Arthritis Society to study how cannabis compounds can manage arthritis pain.

McDougall described the nerves of an arthritis sufferer to the CBC Radio’s Information Morning as “wires that have been stripped of their coating. They’re all bare, they’re all raw and responsible for feeling a lot of pain. What we hypothesize is that by locally administering these cannabis-like molecules to those nerves, we’d actually be able to repair them and reduce the pain of arthritis.”

So far McDougall’s research has shown that cannabis molecules can attach themselves to nerve receptors and control the firing of pain signals in the joint. This has all been based on exclusively CBD based treatments. Since there is no psychoactive side effect of CBD (unlike THC), this cannabis treatment can reduce pain locally in the joint without any ‘high’ associated with cannabis.

What should I take and how should I take it?

There are a variety of ways to consume cannabis, with the majority of reasons being subjective and based on your personal needs and desires. For arthritis specifically, a suitable solution can be to use a cannabis cream directly on aching joints. Of course, capsules, oils, edibles, vaporizing or smoking may be effective depending on your conditions as well.

If you are looking for a strain or product suited for your arthritic condition, here’s a link to find the best-suited products for you. The type of strain you use is important as certain compounds are shown to relieve arthritic pain.

Cannabis & Arthritis – Real life stories

Someone who has experienced firsthand the pain-relieving effects of cannabis is 76 year old actor, Patrick Stewart. Patrick revealed his use of medical cannabis to treat arthritis to voice his support for research in the U.K.

“Two years ago, in Los Angeles, I was examined by a doctor and given a note which gave me legal permission to purchase, from a registered outlet, cannabis-based products, which I was advised might help the ortho-arthritis in both my hands. This, it would seem, is a genetically-based condition. My mother had badly distorted and painful hands.”

Stewart, whose condition was so severe that he was unable to make a fist, opts for ointments and edibles, and has found that he now has more motor function than he did before.

“I purchased an ointment, spray and edibles,” his statement continues. “The ointment, while providing some relief from the discomfort, was too greasy to use during daytime and so I only use it at night. The spray very quickly evaporates and leaves my hands quite dry, though with a slight burning or tingling sensation, which is not unpleasant. I believe that the ointment and spray have significantly reduced the stiffness and pain in my hands.”

It appears that medical cannabis could be a safe and effective treatment for arthritis pain and inflammation for millions of people worldwide. But we know it can be confusing. If you’re new to medical cannabis, take a look at our guide to everything you need to know about cannabis to learn more.