New Cannabis Study Shows Promise for Arthritis Sufferers

by HelloMD

A fascinating 2019 study is getting the attention of both the cannabis community and people suffering from arthritis.

CreakyJoints a worldwide, digital community for millions of arthritis sufferers and caregivers conducted the study. The organization, founded in 2009, addresses all forms of arthritis and offers:

  • Education
  • Support
  • Advocacy
  • Patient-centered research

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Creaky Joints presented the findings of the study in June 2019 at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology in Madrid. Titled “Patients’ Perception and Use of Medical Marijuana,” the study involved 1,059 participants living in the United States who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or musculoskeletal diseases.

Several surprising findings emerged:

  • More than half of the respondents (57.3%) reported trying marijuana rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or cannabidiol (CBD) for medical purposes.
  • A stunning 97% of respondents taking THC and 93% of CBD consumers stated their symptoms improved after consuming cannabis.
  • Only 64% of patients told their doctor about their cannabis consumption.
  • Of those patients, 58% of those who spoke with their doctor received no information on cannabis safety, effectiveness or dosage.

Study participants stated they took THC or CBD-rich cannabis to help with:

  • Pain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Relaxation
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Physical function and fatigue

Despite the overwhelming responses indicating their symptoms lessened during the study:

  • 31% of respondents stopped taking cannabis containing THC because of its illegality.
  • 33% of CBD consumers cited the high cost of CBD products as a factor in stopping cannabis consumption.
  • 21% of THC consumers quit because of the costly hit to their wallets.

“Anecdotally, and via this survey data, we know that there are many people with arthritis who benefit from marijuana and CBD products. However, we have to temper our potential excitement about adding these products to an arthritis management strategy because there is so much yet to learn about how these supplements interact with people’s prescribed and over-the-counter medicines and if, in fact, they can be proven to positively impact a person’s experience of disease and symptoms,” says W. Benjamin Nowell, Ph.D, Director of Patient-Centered Research at CreakyJoints.

The study authors concluded that:

  • Patients need to openly communicate with their health care providers about cannabis consumption.
  • Randomized trials are needed to truly understand how cannabis helps arthritis sufferers.
  • Access to tested, regulated marijuana and CBD products is critical for patients taking cannabis medically.

How Does Marijuana Help With Arthritis

Because arthritis is an inflammatory condition, and because cannabis is widely known to have anti-inflammatory properties, doctors like Dr. Benjamin Caplan of the Center for Educational Documentation (CED) Foundation in Boston are prescribing cannabis to people with arthritis.

Dr. Caplan notes that unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids, ibuprofen or biologics, cannabis operates differently, with far fewer dangerous side effects.

And unlike traditional arthritis medications, the numerous routes of administration for cannabis enables folks to build a flexible cannabis medication regimen, which results in a person feeling more empowered and engaged in their treatment.

Endocannabinoids are involved in the body’s inflammatory response, and arthritic patients often have elevated endocannabinoid levels in the synovial fluid surrounding joints. Some research points to the possibility that THC and CBD relieve pain because they make up for an imbalance in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

RELATED: TREATING ARTHRITIS PAIN VIA THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM

Cannabis & Rheumatoid Arthritis

For years, rheumatoid arthritis has been among one of the qualifying conditions that states allow when legislating medical marijuana. A Chinese text dating back to 2000 B.C. even cites cannabis use as way to “undo rheumatism.”

Research shows that CBD suppresses the immune response in animals that results in arthritis-like illnesses, and [human studies](https://www.safeaccessnow.org/arthritis - arthritis) show that cannabis consumption:

  • Increases mobility
  • Improves morning stiffness
  • Enables arthritis sufferers to reduce their use of NSAIDs

Another study published in the British Society for Rheumatology’s journal Rheumatology found that the use of Sativex—a cannabis-based pharmaceutical—resulted in “statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest and quality of sleep,” with few adverse side effects noted.

The low-risk side effects of cannabis are a primary reason that many medical marijuana consumers are motivated to reduce their use of potentially dangerous pharmaceutical drugs by incorporating cannabis into their health care plan.

How to Start a Medical Cannabis Regime for Treating Arthritis

Before you begin any new health regime, you should first consult with your doctor. If you live in a state where cannabis is legal, seek out further consultation with a doctor or health care provider familiar with cannabis.

Dispensaries often employ a particular staff person with expertise in specific health conditions. Don’t be afraid to ask for the expert in the room, and never stop using your prescribed medications without working hand-in-hand with your doctor.

Here are a few tips to get you started if you’re thinking about incorporating cannabis into your arthritis care plan:

  • Start slow with marijuana topicals: Now that there are many excellent topical products on the market, look for cannabis lotions, rubs or salves that can be applied throughout the day with no concern that they will make you feel high.
  • New to cannabis? Try CBD first: If you’re concerned about the psychoactive effects of cannabis with THC, try CBD-rich cannabis products first to see if they will work for you. Like THC-rich marijuana, CBD now comes in every type of consumable format—from beverages and pills to flower you can smoke in a pipe or a joint.
  • Track your progress with a journal: Try to determine the amount of product you’re consuming. CBD must build up in your system before you can feel the optimal effects, so experiment with your dosages and increase over a few days to a week.
  • Try to add some THC into your regime: THC is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Though it’s not for everyone, it works together with CBD to reduce inflammation. There are excellent, dose-specific products on the market that enable people to precisely titrate a dose so that you won’t be subject to discomfort. Try taking THC products before bed. Hopefully, you’ll wake up following a great night’s sleep.
  • Layer your cannabis products: Many chronic pain sufferers rely on a variety of cannabis products throughout the day—starting with more energizing strains in the morning, and moving to stronger, pain-alleviating products toward the evening.
  • Follow up with a cannabis professional: If you’re not getting results, you may need a change in products or dosages.

Photo credit: Aaron Amat/Shutterstock.com

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. And if you have questions about cannabis, ask them and our community will answer.