There are very few subjects that can stir up strong emotions among doctors, scientists, researchers and the public than medical cannabis. In today’s article, we intend to give readers a comprehensive breakdown of what the current literature has to say about the efficacy of cannabis in relation to arthritis.
For millions of Canadians, arthritis can threaten their ability to enjoy something as basic as their freedom of movement, productive work, restful sleep, and an existence free of unnecessary pain. With that said, lets explore how medical cannabis could help millions of Canadians.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis (arthro = joint, itis = inflammation) is an umbrella term that is used to describe a group of over 100 diseases, which is characterized by inflammation in the joints or other areas of the body. Inflammation is a medical term that describes redness and swelling which causes pain and, when it forms in the joints, can also cause stiffness. If it is left unchecked, inflammation can lead to significant and often irreversible damage to the affected areas, resulting in loss of function and disability.
Arthritis can involve almost any part of the body, most often affecting the hip, knee, spine or other weight-bearing joints, but is also found in the fingers, wrists and other non-weight-bearing joints.
Arthritis is a chronic condition – it effects millions of people on a continuous or recurring basis over days, months, years or even a lifetime. Many forms of arthritis can lead to episodic disability, leaving people unable to work for periods of time due to their disease.
Living with Arthritis
Arthritis symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Unfortunately, most people with arthritis experience chronic pain, fatigue, restricted mobility, lowered mood and other symptoms which can erode their quality of life over time.
There are many signs of arthritis; signs include:
- Pain, swelling, redness and or stiffness in one or multiple joints – it can worsen with inactivity
- Morning stiffness around the effected joint, lasting between one hour to the entire day
- Reduced range of motion, or reduced mobility
- Fever, weight loss, fatigue and or anemia *in particular cases
What is Medical Cannabis?
Basically, medical cannabis is the same cannabis used in recreational activities, but utilized for medical purposes. Medical cannabis uses the primary ingredients found in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) to treat, relieve and reduce the symptoms of chronic diseases. THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis, as users typically feel a sensation of euphoria, relaxation and serenity.
What is Medical Cannabis Used for?
Medical cannabis has been found to be an effective adjunct treatment for a wide variety of chronic diseases and illnesses, such as:
- Cancer – Can help to reduce pain, nausea, vomiting and restore appetite during chemotherapy
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – Can help to reduce spasticity and pain
- Alzheimer’s – Can help to reduce the build of beta-amyloid protein (this protein contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s)
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – Can help to reduce nerve pain and stimulate appetite
- Epilepsy – Can help to reduce or control the occurrence of seizures. Recently, the FDA approved Epidiolex (CBD oral solution) to help with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy – Lennox-Gastut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome.
- Wasting Syndrome (Cachexia) – Can help to increase appetite, and control vomiting and nausea
- *Arthritis – Can help to alleviate symptoms of pain, inflammation
- Insomnia – CBD can help to initiate sleep at ease
Forms of Medical Cannabis and Their Effectiveness
Medical cannabis can be taken orally (inhaled or ingested) or applied orally as a topical solution.
Method of Consumption: Inhaled
Forms: joints, vaporizers, oil cartridges or e-cigs
How fast it works: Within several minutes
How long it lasts: Between 3-6 hours
Method of Consumption: Ingested Sublingually (placed under the tongue)
Forms: Sprays or oral dissolve strips
How fast it works: Between 10-30 minutes
How long it lasts: Between 6-12 hours
Method of Consumption: Ingested (oil-based)
Forms: Oils, tinctures or soft-gels
How fast it works: Between 30-60 minutes
How long it lasts: Between 8-12 hours
Method of Consumption: Topical solutions
Forms: Creams and lotions
How fast it works: Between 15-60 minutes *varies*
How long it lasts: Up to 6 hours
Assessing the Effectiveness of Medical Cannabis on Arthritis Symptom Relief
Today, increasingly more people are exploring medical cannabis as a treatment option for their arthritis. While cannabis can’t cure arthritis or slow disease progression, some people report that it helps to alleviate their symptoms of pain, inflammation and anxiety.
How can Medical Cannabis Help with Arthritis?
THC molecules work by attaching to the two main cannabinoid receptors in our body: Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors, which are mostly found in the brain and spinal cord, and Cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptors, which are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells. THC binds to CB1 receptors where it can influence areas of the brain responsible for memory formation, motor coordination, pain perception, emotion regulation and sensory perception.
- Pain and Pain Relief – The cannabinoids within cannabis achieve their pain-relieving effects, when THC and CBD molecules bind to the CB1 receptors on the descending pathway – a tract that travel from your brain stem to the site in your spinal cord where the pain signal was communicated. Here, it can release natural pain-relieving chemicals to help reduce the intensity of the pain signals one experiences.
- Anti-inflammatory Properties – CBD cab reduce inflammation throughout the body. A study conducted using animals demonstrated that CBD was able to supress inflammation-causing molecules by 48%; another study revealed that CBD reversed pain sensitivity caused by inflammation and nerve pain.
- We have endocannabinoid receptors in our immune cells and synovial fluid surrounding the joints in our knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders and hips, meaning that both CBD and THC could help to reduce inflammation in these areas.
What is the Takeaway?
THC and CBD both interact with pain receptors throughout our body, causing a release of natural pain-relieving chemicals to provide arthritis symptoms relief. However, despite a growing consensus pertaining to the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, further research is needed in order to determine the efficacy of medical cannabis use.
**Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not replace a formal diagnosis or treatment provided to you by your physician. Before using medical cannabis, please speak to your primary physician, as they will provide you with the best information/