Using Cannabis for Arthritis: 6 Facts to Consider
Consider if cannabis as a supplement or alternative is right for you.
When searching for alternatives to arthritis medications, or simply doing research before deciding which therapy is right for us, we'll stumble upon mixed signals when it comes to cannabis.
There are many articles and anecdotal claims stating cannabis can defeat the debilitating symptoms of arthritis, but there are others explaining it's the least effective method of treatment when pharmaceuticals are involved.
Currently, there's only a few studies examining whether cannabis is a choice medicine for arthritis, so here we'll discuss five different points to consider when looking at cannabis as a treatment option for it.
1. CB2 receptors are found in joints.
When investigating the endocannabinoid system, it was found that there are CB2 receptors in the synovium (soft tissue) of joints. A study found these receptors expressed more in the synovium tissues from rheumatoid joints rather than those from osteoarthritis joints. The conclusion was that:
"...a selective CB2 agonist could be a new therapy for RA that inhibits production of inflammatory mediators from FLS and osteoclastogenesis."
What this means for us is that certain cannabis strains harboring cannabinoids that attach to CB2 receptors could possibly help reduce both inflammation and pain caused from rheumatoid arthritis.
Learn More: About CB1 & CB2 Receptors
2. Rheumatoid & osteoarthritis call for different solutions.
While osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical wear and tear, which occurs naturally as we get older, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body's immune system - specifically the joints. This helps explain why rheumatoid joints are influenced by cannabinoids that attach to CB2 receptors - the endocannabinoid system is linked to the immune system, playing a role in its regulation. When cannabis is introduced to the system, it can exhibit immunosuppressive properties that in turn help reduce inflammation and any pain related to it.
Learn More: Timeline: Discovering the Endocannabinoid System
However, there's also evidence that cannabinoids can reduce joint damage caused by osteoarthritis. An animal study noted that "targeting CB2 receptors may have therapeutic potential for treating [osteoarthritis] pain.” The study, entitled, "Cannabinoid CB2 receptors regulate central sensitization and pain responses associated with osteoarthritis of the knee joint," found that CB2 receptor stimulation in the spinal cords of rats resulted in a decrease of pain response and inflammation from monosodium acetate induced osteoarthritis-like pain in joint tissues.
While both types of arthritis can be influenced via CB2 receptor stimulation, successful pain and inflammation reduction will depend on properly consuming or applying the right cannabis strain(s) containing the correct cannabinoids and along with the right percentage.
3. Cannabis is being used & studied as an opioid replacement.
Arthritis, be it rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, is known to be one of the leading causes of chronic pain. Chronic pain is known to be one of the major conditions that leads to an opiod prescription. There have been a few studies and several surveys conducted resulting in the notion that opioids can either be replaced by cannabis for pain management or used alongside opioid prescriptions to reduce the risk of addiction and overdose.
4. Cannabis has been linked to reducing inflammation.
Whether it's inflammation of the joints or of the skin (like in psoriatic arthritis), cannabis has been tied to lessening the symptoms of inflammation. This will depend upon a few factors such as what strain is being used (i.e. what percentage of cannabinoids and terpenes are present) as well as how the body reacts to said percentages. More abstracts are in the process of being studied, but there's enough evidence to label some forms/strains of cannabis as anti-inflammatory. (See more abstracts here)
5. Cannabis is used in all forms to lessen arthritis symptoms.
You can find cannabis in various forms, ranging from its natural flower which is either smoked or vaped, to concentrated forms such as kief, oil, or wax. There's a huge market right now for cannabis-infused foods that take the smoking step right out of consuming cannabis.
Tinctures can easily be taken sublingually, and there's even a small market for suppositories. Topicals like lotions, creams, and balms can be infused with the plant's activated cannabinoids, and is a favorite among those searching for a localized solution.
Anecdotal accounts, surveys, and looking at dispensary sales points us towards the notion that all forms of cannabis are being used to fight debilitating symptoms such as pain, including pain induced by arthritis. There's a wide array of brands you can find that were created specifically for pain - keep in mind brand availability will depend on what state you're in since cannabis products cannot be shipped across borders.
6. Your Body's Response to Cannabinoid Percentages.
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, then there are the 100+ others that don't receive nearly as much attention, such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), or cannabidivarin (CBDv) just to name a few.
Currently, scientists are trying to understand "the entourage effect" of cannabis, or rather, how each cannabinoid acts synergistically with others present. There's a wealth of knowledge here that we still don't fully understand yet, but we do know that varying percentages of THC versus CBD will cause differing effects in a consumer.
When trying cannabis as an alternative or supplement for arthritis, it's important to research CBD and THC well and understand that while both may help reduce pain, CBD won't create a "high" while THC will. And note that CBD is being researched in seeing whether it can negate some of the high effects of THC.
Whether you're serious about using cannabis as an alternative or supplement or are simply satisfying your curiosity, these five facts should shed some light on how and why cannabis is being used and researched for various forms of arthritis.