According to the CDC, an estimated 54 million Americans are living with arthritis although this is probably a conservative estimate. As the nation’s enormous baby boomer generation ages, things are set to get worse with an estimated 78 million people aged 18+ set to have ‘doctor diagnosed’ arthritis by 2040. For the record, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in second place.
It is a potentially debilitating condition that can cause issues such as joint destruction, deformity, cartilage damage and bone damage, among other things. Arthritis is also a financial bonanza for Big Pharma, as there are dozens of different medications available. While some are effective, they often carry negative side effects. In the last few years, the idea of using marijuana to treat arthritis has been spread around the globe. So, does marijuana work for arthritis or should you continue to rely on prescription drugs?
What is Arthritis & How Does It Affect Your Life?
Arthritis is a commonly misunderstood condition because it isn’t a single disease. Believe it or not, there are over 100 different types of arthritis and associated conditions. The most frequent versions include:
- Osteoarthritis: This occurs when the cartilage begins to wear away and causes bone to rub against bone. Eventually, your joints become weak and the result is chronic pain.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): This is an inflammatory condition which is actually the cause of an autoimmune disease. RA happens when your body starts attacking its healthy joint tissues.
- Infectious Arthritis: This occurs when a virus, fungus, or bacterium enters your joints and causes inflammation.
Typical arthritis symptoms include stiffness, joint pain, and swelling, and in many cases, your range of motion decreases and there is redness of your skin around the joint. For the majority of people living with arthritis, the worst pain occurs in the morning. If you have a condition such as RA, it is common to feel tired or even experience a loss of appetite. In some instances, you could even become anemic which means your red blood cell count is reduced.
Also, if your arthritis becomes severe enough, it could markedly decrease your quality of life. According to the CDC, in fact, 25% of working age adults face working limitations because of the condition. Also, arthritis sufferers are 250% more likely to have had two or more falls in the previous 12 months than those without the condition.
What Medications Are Available?
The RA market alone will be worth $9.3 billion in 2020, and there are dozens of drugs available. Analgesics such as Vicodin and Tylenol are prescribed to handle the pain, but they do nothing for the underlying inflammatory problem. And while NSAIDs help control inflammation and pain, they also thin the blood.
If you have RA, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are prescribed to decrease inflammation. Popular brands include Minocin, Trexall, Arava, and Azulfidine. If DMARDs are ineffective, you may receive Janus associated kinase inhibitors, which are designed to prevent damage to your joints and tissues. Side effects associated with this form of medication include diarrhea, upper respiratory infections and a congested nose. NSAIDs have severe side effects as well, including ulcers, stomach bleeding, and kidney damage. In rare cases, in fact, the drugs can burn a hole through your intestines or stomach!
Weed to the Rescue?
Presumably, you would like to treat your arthritis without destroying your internal organs! If so, marijuana could be the answer as an increasing number of studies show. Doctor Jason McDougall of the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, for example began a three-year study in 2015 on whether cannabis can help relieve pain and repair arthritic joints. The Arthritis Society funded the study as it looks to answer the burning question: Can weed fight inflammation and help repair the joint, or does it merely work by dampening pain response in the brain?
According to McDougall, the nerves of a person with arthritis are like “wires that have been stripped of their coating.” They are exposed, raw and result in a tremendous degree of pain. He believes that local administration of cannabis-like molecules to the nerves could result in their repair, as well as a significant reduction in pain. While his research to date has focused on non-intoxicating weed cannabinoids (such as CBD), his team has found that cannabis molecules attach to the nerve receptors and control pain signals in the affected joint.
Moreover, a study by Sheng-Ming Dai et al., published in 2014, discovered that people living with arthritis have exceptionally high levels of CB2 receptors in their joint tissue. In what is a truly exciting development, it seems as if cannabis fights inflammation by activating CB2 receptor pathways.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at this development, however. After all, marijuana has been used to restore ‘softness of joints’ since 50 AD in England. This was the beginning of Roman occupation, so it appears as if an ancient civilization knows more about joint repair than we do today! Cannabis has also been used to treat musculoskeletal pain in western medicine since the 18th century, and remarkably, there is a possibility that the Chinese used weed for its anti-inflammatory properties as early as 4,000 years ago!
Of course, though, there is plenty of resistance against the use of weed to treat arthritis. A 2014 review published in Arthritis Care & Research, for instance, concluded that marijuana had a poor risk/benefit profile that was inferior to all analgesic classes, barring deadly opioids. However, an increasing number of medical professionals and scientists disagree. According to Jahan Marcu, PhD, there are around 9,000 years of patient data which shows that the THC in cannabis treats arthritis effectively. Moreover, Marcu says that at the very least cannabinoids have the ability to reduce inflammation and ease arthritis-associated joint pain.
Science Favors Weed
Regardless of what the naysayers suggest, scientific research does support the theory that weed helps arthritis patients. In 2017, the National Academy of Sciences performed a systematic review of medical studies and confirmed there is significant evidence that weed is an effective option for arthritis and a host of other senior ailments. The review is 395 pages long, and involves some of America’s best physicians. Overall, it looked at 10,700 research studies and arrived at 100 research conclusions.
Ultimately, it appears as if the interaction of marijuana with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) accounts for the efficacy of weed when treating arthritis, as well as many other medical issues. In basic terms, the ECS is an electrochemical signaling system in the nerves that helps the body heal itself and maintain homeostasis. The ECS has receptors all over the body, including areas such as the brain, organs, glands, connective tissues and immune cells.
The ECS responds any time something is wrong with the body. For instance, if you get injured your body produces cannabinoids at the site of the injury to prevent pro-inflammatory substances from getting released. These cannabinoids also stabilize your nerve cells to ensure there is no excessive firing. Overall, the result should be reduced damage and pain.
As our natural cannabinoids stimulate the ECS, it stands to reason that plant-based cannabinoids (like those found in marijuana) will do the same thing. When you use medicinal cannabis, your ECS is stimulated by cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, and they help to combat pain and inflammation. If you have arthritis, it is possible that weed could do much more.
Real Life Evidence
We are not going to try and pull the wool over your eyes; the weight of evidence supporting the use of marijuana to help arthritis is still open for debate, even though most of the data is positive. However, we find that evidence from real people is also compelling. Tens of thousands of arthritis sufferers swear by weed as an effective treatment, and 58-year old Sarah, who lives in the UK, offered one of the best ‘cannabis for arthritis’ testimonials that we have come across.
According to her, marijuana has provided “a second chance to live my life.” She has suffered from terrible arthritis pain for years, and no combination of traditional drugs could help her. Then, she changed her diet and switched to cannabis use. As well as cutting down on gluten, sugar and wheat, Sarah began using 0.5 ml of CBD oil twice a day. She also vaped a hybrid with THC in the evenings. After a couple of months, she knew precisely what doses worked best, and now she wakes up every day with a new purpose and her level of pain has diminished significantly.
In the state of Maine, Katie Marsh experienced similar frustrations when using conventional meds, and ultimately similar success after switching to marijuana. She tried all manner of DMARDs to help combat her RA, but the drugs did nothing to ease the pain caused by her swollen joints. Eventually, after seeking the advice of her physician, she began juicing raw cannabis and used it in a smoothie. Within a few days, Katie was able to ditch her painkillers and now, 11 months after beginning cannabis treatment, her condition is in remission!
Final Thoughts on Weed & Arthritis
It is difficult to understand why there is so much skepticism relating to marijuana as a treatment for ailments such as arthritis. Since the condition involves inflammation, and weed is a well-known anti-inflammatory, it makes perfect sense that cannabis should be effective. It has been used to treat inflammatory conditions for thousands of years, yet for some reason, despite all of the evidence in its favor, the scientific community continues to turn its back on it.
Also, the notion that weed isn’t safe is a false one, as its safety has been confirmed in more than 20,000 scientific studies. Detailed research supports both the efficacy and safety of weed to treat arthritis, as well as a myriad of other conditions where chronic pain makes a person’s life a misery. Here’s hoping that common sense prevails, and marijuana is widely used to treat arthritis.