Can weed help my arthritis?
When most people complain of their joints bothering them or that they are suffering from arthritis they are usually referring to Osteoarthritis (vs eg Rheumatoid Arthritis) which being the most common form of arthritis, affects tens of millions of people in the US and hundreds of millions worldwide.
We normally associate it with aging as it is mainly a mechanical disease where through usage of the joints – (not the ones you smoke – the ones in your hands, knees, hips, spine etc…) the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones get worn down with time and use.
- Age – damage accumulates as we age.
- Gender – we don’t know why but women have a higher rate of osteoarthritis.
- Obesity – essentially increased weight increases pressure and therefore stress on the joints – in particular knees and hips where the pressure is focused. Adipose (fat) tissue is also considered to cause harm through an inflammatory process.
- Injuries – in particular to the joint themselves (e.g. in sports and accidents) can directly damage the joints and cartilage or cause damage through repeated stress.
- Genetics – there is an inheritable factor in osteoarthritis and we see it running in families.
- Other – e.g bone deformities, cartilage issues and even diabetes.
Osteoarthritis causes irreversible damage as the cartilage (generally) cannot be renewed. So the most important part is managing arthritis symptoms through maintaining an active lifestyle, being at a healthy weight and reducing disease progression.
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Pain and stiffness – pain in osteoarthritis is normally associated with movement of the affected joints whereas stiffness is more associated with inactivity (e.g when you wake up).
- Swollen and tender joints – joints may feel upon application of pressure.
- Reduced flexibility – and range of motion.
- Grating of joints – this is a sensation which is literally the feeling of joint on joint movement (bone rubbing on bone due to lack of cartilage).
- Bone spurs – hard lumps which are extra bone formation around the affected joint
What does the science say?
First of all let’s discuss the Cannabis sativa plant that has greater than 100 chemicals that can impact your body and mind. Due to the fact that weed was illegal for so long – medical research is really behind in understanding the potential benefits of cannabis in arthritis. In fact little is known about most of the cannabinoids or how they interact though we are learning more daily.
THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is what gets you high when you smoke, vape, or eat marijuana. CBD on the other hand is not psychoactive (doesn’t get you high) and it’s effects are considered to be mainly relief from pain, inflammation and anxiety .
For that reason, some people favor the CBD for clinical uses but though the THC and CBD molecule are close they are different and should be considered separately to a degree. So does cannabis work for arthritis is a more complicated question that appears at first – all the more so because of the entourage effect means that THC and CBD can in some ways affect the action of the other. For example THC is believe to enhance the pain reducing effects of CBD while CBD can reduce the high associated with THC (by competing for the receptors).
We will focus on CBD because it can be found throughout the US legally since the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp-derived products legal and as CBD (cannabidiol) is the second most commonly found active compound from the cannabis plant and due to it’s lack of intoxication may be considered by some as the preferred choice for relief of arthritis symptoms especially as legally the CBD products must contain less than 0.3% THC.
Does CBD work for arthritis?
Human and animal studies point to CBD having both pain-relief and anti-inflammatory properties. However dependable large studies evaluating CBD vs placebo for pain relief in arthritis are not available because of the previous illegality and furthermore because often there has been THC in the formulas used – thus confounding things even more.
Most evidence from the millions of users that use CBD and who swear by it.
Should I try CBD?
Given the lack of scientific evidence through clinical studies it is important to understand the risks and potential benefits. It is important to start by speaking with your health care provider too.
Given CBD is considered safe and has very few side-effects the downside risks is considered to be quite low. The potential ways of dosing CBD vary alot and can include creams, balms and other topicals – vs oils, tinctures, tablets and capsules as well as smoking cbd flower (hemp flower) or using vapes. Different people are affected differently in terms of relief.
If you are considering using THC for pain relief you should consider strains with a high CBD content – which may work well together and many patients consider to work better than either THC alone or CBD alone.
When considering a product make sure that it is from a reputable company and that it is made in the USA.