- by Marni Meistrell
Arthritis is a chronic condition that causes joints to become stiff, swollen and painful. More than 50 million Americans suffer from arthritis, a life-altering and debilitating disorder that is often (incorrectly) assumed to be completely synonymous with aging.
In fact, two thirds of arthritis victims are between the ages of 18 and 64, and about one in 250 children will also be diagnosed with some form of this illness, which is the leading cause of disability in the United States. The risk of being diagnosed with arthritis does rise continuously as a person ages, however (half of adults 65 and over suffer from it), and once the condition manifests it can plague victims for the remainder of their years.
While cause-and-effect relationships are murky, arthritis often co-occurs with other dangerous health conditions. For example.…
- 49 percent of people with heart disease also have arthritis.
- 47 percent of people with diabetes also have arthritis.
- 44 percent of people with high blood pressure also have arthritis.
- 31 percent of people classified as clinically obese also have arthritis.
If arthritis is left untreated, these additional disorders could worsen and ultimately become fatal.
While other medications are available, and frequently prescribed, medical marijuana is the safest drug currently used to treat arthritis, offering little risk of a bad reaction. For most patients, it offers the possibility of significant improvements in mobility and comfort, and if other serious conditions are present it may help reduce the intensity and severity of their symptoms as well.
The two most frequently diagnosed forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, although many other subgroups do exist. Medical marijuana can be used to treat all of them, but arthritis sufferers should not consume cannabis products without first consulting with a physician licensed to recommend them.
How are Osteoarthritis Sufferers Helped by Cannabis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is largely a disease of aging, and its onset is triggered by a lifetime of wear and tear on the joints.
The cartilage and tissue that protect joints and bones can gradually wear away to the point that bones are actually rubbing together, and once this happens osteoarthritis may be diagnosed. The disease prevents cartilage and tissue from regenerating and causes bones to weaken and become more susceptible to fracture over time.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Chronic pain, often severe
- A grinding or rubbing sensation
- Bone spurs
- Extreme tenderness or redness of the skin
- Stiffness and loss of flexibility
- Recurrent aches at certain times of day, or when sitting or standing in certain positions
Osteoarthritis is not reversible and will worsen over time without intervention.
But research shows that medicinal cannabis products can slow the decay of joint tissue and possibly even help regenerate lost cartilage, while also relieving pain and helping strengthen bones. Osteoarthritis is usually accompanied by excessive inflammation, and medical marijuana products have demonstrated the ability to reduce inflammation regardless of how advanced or chronic it may be.
How are Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers Helped by Cannabis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes drastic and painful inflammation in and around the joints. The body misconstrues stress in these areas as a foreign invader, and when the immune system activates in response it can cause ongoing, significant and persistent damage to the cartilage and tissue in the affected joints.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Chronic and intense pain
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Locked joints
- Stiffness upon waking
- Debilitating inflammation of the feet (plantar fasciitis)
- Injuries that won’t heal
Fortunately, medicinal cannabis can help relieve such symptoms through the intervention of the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is composed of cannabinoid-friendly chemical receptors located in the nervous system, in the organs, in the immune system and elsewhere. An activated endocannabinoid system can be a potent and powerful force for recovery from any type of illness, including autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
A 2014 study published in the journal Rheumatology revealed that one type of endocannabinoid receptor, called CB2, was found in abundance in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. This opens the door for medicinal cannabis compounds to gravitate to the joints, where they can harness their proven anti-inflammatory properties to reduce the devastating side effects that make rheumatoid arthritis so painful and devitalizing.
Why Do Arthritis Victims Choose Cannabis?
Pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for arthritis victims include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (available as aspirin or ibuprofen over the counter), corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and genetically-engineered biologic medicines.
Unfortunately, all can cause unpleasant side effects, and some arthritis drugs may exacerbate existing heart conditions, which are fairly common among arthritis sufferers. In this regard medicinal cannabis products are far less risky, producing few if any troublesome side effects (and none that are truly dangerous).
For many arthritis patients, cannabis is also more dependable in its capacity to reduce inflammation and pain and restore lost mobility. Although research studies that verify the effectiveness of cannabis against arthritis symptoms are not plentiful, the anecdotal evidence proving its utility is impressive and extensive.
How is Cannabis Used to Treat the Symptoms of Arthritis?
Vaporized extract can deliver quick pain-killing benefits, bringing great relief to an arthritis sufferer hit with a sudden and devastating attack.
Cannabis products meant for topical application (creams and oils) are ideal and indispensable for arthritis victims. These healing lotions can be applied directly to areas where arthritis outbreaks are occurring, and as they’re absorbed by the skin they can bring instantaneous and much-needed relief (and perhaps doubly so if combined with inhaled vaporized extract).
But while they can offer immediate help for arthritis symptoms, vaporized cannabis and topical products may not be the best solutions for long-lasting, sustainable daily maintenance. Edible cannabis products are digested slowly but give a steady, sustained dosage of soothing THC and/or CBD, the healing/recovery ingredients that give medical marijuana its potency. Edibles can be consumed in the morning or daytime, and as long as dosages are controlled they can bring pain-free bliss and serenity that lasts for several hours.
Another recommendation for arthritis sufferers is to use cannabis flowers for juicing. When consumed raw, as a juice or smoothie cannabis flowers deliver a full load of healing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, some of which may be lost when cannabis is vaporized or otherwise processed.
What Cannabis Products Work Best for Treating Arthritis?
THC binds directly to CB2 endocannabinoid receptors, the biological actors responsible for accepting cannabinoids that can reduce pain and slow cartilage and bone degeneration in arthritis sufferers (and possibly even reverse those processes if the damage is not severe). Meanwhile, CBD stimulates the body to produce its own chemicals to bind with CB2 receptors, jumpstarting the endocannabinoid system in the same way that THC will when inhaled, eaten or absorbed through the skin.
Because the two compounds complement each other so well, cannabis products that contain a one-to-one THC: CBD ratio generally work well for arthritis. Strains with higher levels of CBD may make sense for daytime usage, since CBD does not have the same psychoactive effects of THC and will not interfere with normal daytime routines in any way.
Medical marijuana strains come from two types of plant: indica and sativa. The former tends to induce a more relaxed state, and strains that come from indica plants are more commonly recommended for the treatment of arthritis. Indica strains with relatively high levels of THC can help arthritis victims suffering from a significant amount of pain, and could be used on occasion despite THC’s capacity to affect mind and mood.
Some studies into medicinal cannabis and its effects on arthritis suggest higher doses produce longer-lasting, more consistent relief. Generally higher doses will be recommended from the outset only if arthritis symptoms are severe, but regardless of the circumstances some amount of trial-and-error will be necessary to establish an effective dose for each medical marijuana patient.
Since both THC and CBD are known to work against the symptoms of arthritis, physicians normally recommend products that contain both in relatively balanced quantities. If initial doses are ineffective and higher doses are required, doctors will warn patients that excessive amounts of THC could conceivably cause agitation, insomnia or other effects related to mental overstimulation. But THC is very effective as a painkiller and some patients may prefer high-THC products despite the risk of unwanted side effects (which most medicinal cannabis consumers will not experience).