Over 6 million Canadians suffer from some form of arthritis.
Pretty shocking, right?
A broad reach for any serious disease, arthritis is an umbrella term used for over 100 different conditions relating to swelling, inflammation, and joint stiffness.
Add in even more Canadians who aren’t officially diagnosed, and arthritis symptoms become even more widespread.
So what can cannabis for arthritis really do for those afflicted by a disease with no known cure?
Which types of arthritis respond best to medical cannabis?
Will there come a day when cannabis is actually capable of reversing the symptoms of the disease?
To have these questions and more answered, read on for a breakdown of the different ways cannabis serves arthritis patients.
What is arthritis?
This disease doesn’t discriminate. People of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds are forced to battle with it daily. Although very common, arthritis still remains a very misunderstood disease in Canada and worldwide.
The medical classification for inflammation is any redness and/or swelling on the body or anything that causes a stiffness of the joints. Complicating the lives of 1 in 5 Canadians, the disease is very persistent and can affect people on a constant or recurring basis for months, years, or even decades.
If troubled areas are neglected arthritis can inflict irreparable damage over time and result in long/short term disability and loss of basic bodily functions.
Although it can strike many parts of the body the areas most severely hit are weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees and the spine. However, non-weight-bearing joints like the fingers are also susceptible.
The science behind treating arthritis with cannabis
Cannabis has slowly become a popular treatment for Canadians suffering from arthritis and it’s easy to see why. Simply put, arthritis is caused by inflammation and, well, marijuana has been shown to help.
Of the many cannabinoids present in cannabis, THC and CBD are best equipped to battle inflammation and pain. Researchers discovered that the joint tissues of arthritis sufferers have an abundance of CB2 receptors.
Explore In-Depth: CBD vs. THC: A deep dive on these popular cannabis compounds
This information led them to conclude that cannabis is key to activating those receptors and helps reduce pain and inflammation.
Within all of our bodies is a far-reaching network of receptors called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. The main receptors in this system are CB1 and CB2.
Your body also produces endocannabinoid molecules that latch onto these receptors to help reduce pain. Similarly, cannabis makes phytocannabinoids, like THC and CBD that also attach to and activate these receptors.
In this way, the ECS plays a crucial role in our immune process and how our bodies register pain.
Osteoarthritis – tackling the biggest offender
Affecting more Canadians than all other types of arthritis combined, osteoarthritis is easily the most common form of arthritis in Canada. The Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) describes it as the pain resulting from the body’s inability to repair damaged joint tissues.
Often referred to as OA, it occurs when bone ends rub off each other after the cartilage has been worn away. Cartilage is the resilient, cushioning, elastic material that wraps around and protects these bone ends so when it erodes the friction between bones causes painful swelling, joint stiffness and can restrict movement.
The knees, hips, hands and spine are the joints that mostly come under fire from osteoarthritis. Over time wear and tear can result in joints weakening which can lead to pain becoming chronic. Age, obesity and a history of joint injuries are some of factors that bring about OA, others are occupation, playing certain sports and genetics.
So how can cannabis help?
The traditional way to manage the symptoms of OA is with over-the-counter pain medication, hot & cold therapies and/or using assistive devices. However, times are changing and Health Canada has reported that ‘severe arthritis’ is the diagnosis for over 50
percent of Canadians authorized to use medical cannabis.
This statistic could be explained by the fact that cannabinoids have been found to reduce osteoarthritic pain, inflammation and nerve damage in animal models.
Inflammatory or rheumatoid arthritis
This form of arthritis occurs when your immune system — instead of guarding your body against disease using internal inflammation — attacks the joints with unchecked inflammation. This can potentially cause joint erosion and may damage internal organs, eyes and other body parts
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an example of inflammatory arthritis. Research suggests that a combination of genetics and environmental factors can trigger these conditions. Smoking, for example, is an environmental risk responsible for the development of RA in people with a particular genetic makeup.
Early diagnosis coupled with aggressive treatment is paramount when tackling autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis. The goal is to go into remission by correctly managing pain, improving bodily functions and preventing further damage by disrupting and slowing disease activity.
Inflammatory arthritis is often treated with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) but cannabis is now beginning to compete with these.
Cannabidiol oil — also known as CBD oil — is a medicinal product derived from marijuana. CBD differs from THC in that it is not a psychoactive substance and so does not get you “high”. Researchers have recently discovered that CBD oil has a positive effect on several painful conditions including rheumatoid arthritis.
These promising study results began in 2008 when a review concluded that CBD reduced pain associated with RA. It also improved sleep quality for patients minus any negative side effects.
In 2016 another study surfaced on CBD’s healing capabilities. Again, researchers found that CBD gel helped to relieve and reduce joint pain and inflammation in rats. Although the studies are encouraging news for arthritis sufferers, many more are required to fully understand what the best role is for cannabis in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
More on CBD oil to treat arthritis
Apart from THC, cannabidiol — or CBD — is the most present active ingredient in cannabis. Its medicinal and therapeutic qualities are gradually garnering praise and intrigue in medical circles. Studies suggest that choosing CBD oil to address your joint pain is a healthier alternative to using prescription medications such as opioids.
Its compounds offer a safer, more natural approach to managing pain and discomfort and it contains no non-psychoactive ingredients. So dealing with a disorientating “high” won’t be an issue. Vape it for quick relief, apply it to problem areas as a topical, lotion or oil or simply ingest it in capsule form, these are just some of the many delivery methods.
Explore In-Depth: What is CBD oil?
Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis have continually voice their approval of CBD oil as a reliable source of pain relief. The oil bonds with two powerful and influential receptors in the body called CB1 and CB2 which control anti-inflammatory effects in the body. CBD oil’s positive effects on the immune system result in pathways opening up to the vital CB2 receptors which in turn allows them to send signals to the brain to reduce joint inflammation.
For long-term pain relief CBD oil offers real hope to rheumatoid arthritis patients. While costly pharmaceutical-strength drugs can lead to dangerous side effects over time, CBD oil suppresses T-cell function which causes the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
This is welcoming news to those suffering from chronic arthritic pain as in the long run CBD oil could eradicate inflammation and pain.
What does THC do for arthritis?
A potent anti-inflammatory and pain management tool, THC is gaining in popularity for assisting patients with severe pain. Furthermore, researchers discovered that THC can change critical molecules of epigenome, leading to suppression of inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory powers are impressive too, possessing twice the power of hydrocortisone and 20 times that of aspirin.
Most of the best strains to treat arthritis are nearly all either very heavy in THC or CBD, depending on what needs to be treated. CBD influences your immune system, which makes it a logical fit to tackle autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
A study found that there is a concentration of CB2 receptors in the joint tissue of arthritis patients. CBD bonds best with CB2 receptors and in doing so activates pathways to these receptors making it easier to battle inflammation in the joints.
While CBD opens up pathways THC is pretty much the muscle. A powerful painkiller and anti-inflammatory it bonds best to CB1 receptors to give patients relief from chronic pain. It’s also great for anxiety and depression which often accompany diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
As far as strains go indica — renowned for its body highs — appears to trump sativa and its cerebral head buzz as being more helpful for arthritis patients.
The Arthritis Society of Canada’s stance on cannabis
Their purpose is “To embrace and empower the resilient spirit of people who live with arthritis, as we tirelessly pursue a future without it.” Representing, informing and helping Canada’s arthritis patients for over 70 years, the Arthritis Society is a national health charity that relies on donors and volunteers. The society’s vision is to live in a world where people are free from the devastating effects of the disease. They aim to realize this vision by fundraising to invest in cutting-edge research, proactive advocacy and innovative health solutions for those affected by arthritis. But how do they feel about cannabis as a viable arthritis treatment?
Their position paper spells it out. Here are the highlights:
• The Arthritis Society of Canada was the first health charity in the country to fund research into medical cannabis.
• They support calls for in-depth, high-quality research into the safety and effectiveness of using cannabis to treat arthritis.
• They have called on the federal government to increase funding for medical cannabis research.
• In their eyes medical cannabis should be treated like any other federally-regulated medications in Canada.
Cannabis roots: Traditional therapy enters the modern age
Using cannabis roots to heal people dates back to 77 AD. Since then herbalists and doctors across the world have recommended them to treat an array of conditions including arthritis, joint pain, gout, and even postpartum hemorrhage.
Neglected for years by modern medical practitioners and researchers, the healing capabilities of cannabis roots are only starting to be recognized. The roots don’t contain cannabinoids like THC and CBD but instead play host to other compounds that may have significant therapeutic uses.
Cannabis roots are laden with triterpenoids like friedelin and its derivate epifriedelinol. Both compounds are easily found in nature and are known to have significant anti-inflammatory powers. Friedelin, in particular, has proven itself to be a potent anti-inflammatory in vivo experiments, reducing edema and swelling across all of the body. The most popular administration method is topicals.
Warning: Cannabis roots can draw heavy metals from the soil, including iron, chromium, and cadmium. This undermines the therapeutic use of the roots as contaminated soil can produce toxic roots. Please exercise caution when sourcing this medicine.
Juicing the entire plant
“Remember to eat your greens.” This well-known nugget of health advice may be about to take on a whole new meaning. Consuming raw cannabis is on the rise with many experiencing good results from juicing and drinking the entire cannabis plant.
Much more studies are required on this subject but some respected doctors are lauding the advantages of consuming raw cannabis. These professional insist that consuming smoked, processed or decarboxylated cannabis over raw could mean you are depriving yourself of a host of health benefits.
Marijuana’s two celebrity cannabinoids — THC and CBD — known for their therapeutic value are present in raw cannabis as acids called THCA and CBDA.
Their respective healing powers coupled with fatty acids could help lessen the damage caused by free radicals. Additionally juicing could aid in improving cell function and reducing inflammation. As studies inevitably surface on this subject you should watch this space. Game-changing health benefits could be forthcoming.
A safer alternative to opioids
The fact is medical cannabis isn’t for everyone when it comes to treating chronic pain, but is it a safer alternative than opioids? It is no secret that both have pain-killing and anti-inflammatory effects. However, in terms of everyday use opioids are prescribed more often than medical marijuana which has led to a devastating spike in opioid abuse and addiction in recent years.
The facts speak for themselves. Over-prescribing of opioids has resulted in a public health crisis in Canada which has seen over 8,000 Canadians lose their lives since 2016 due to accidental overdoses. Meanwhile, not one death has ever been recorded globally due to a cannabis overdose.
Yes, cannabis can be mentally addictive but it has zero debilitating withdrawal symptoms, unlike opioids which is both physically and mentally addictive. Additionally, research has revealed that cannabis could play an important role in helping addicts to overcome their dependence on opioids.
Is the future of cannabis repairing, not just soothing, arthritic joints?
In 2015, respected Canadian researcher Dr. Jason McDougall received funding from the Arthritis Society of Canada to do a three-year study on the extent of cannabis’ healing powers. The study’s aim was to focus on whether cannabis-based medicine could repair arthritic joints by reversing the damage done, rather than just acting as a painkiller.
McDougall’s team are already aware that medical cannabis — CBD in particular — bonds well at CB2 sites. Here it suppresses inflammation and pain by mediating immune responses where inflammation occurs. This could be interpreted as the body searching for molecules to help it reconstruct its vital elements.
The next step is to see if changes to the medicine create different responses in the body. If researchers can discover novel ways for cannabinoid receptors to consume medicine, it could be groundbreaking. This could potentially lead to new treatment methods and — fingers crossed — ways to undo the long-lasting joint damage of arthritis.
McDougall’s research is still ongoing but the results are expected soon.
Canada’s numbers don’t lie. People are taking note. If you are suffering from arthritis and curious about anything that has been written here, talk to your medical professional today about medical cannabis as a treatment option.