Healthy Living

Arthritis Patients Find Relief in Cannabis

Scientific reasoning indicates that patients with arthritis can find relief in medical cannabis.

Arthritis Patients Find Relief in Cannabis

If you are living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), then you understand how it is not possible to ignore painful and swollen joints. And in order to help alleviate your symptoms, you may have even turned to alternative remedies in order to replace conventional medications prescribed by your doctor.

While no studies have been definitive in their findings, scientific reasoning indicates that patients with arthritis can find relief in medical cannabis. Cannabis is a psychoactive drug that derives from the Cannabis plant and is used for medical or recreational purposes. Some medical experts propose that the mixture of its compounds, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), is the ideal approach to managing pain. THC is known to help manage your perception of pain, as well as to regulate your sleeping habits, dietary habits, and other routines. On the other hand, CBD is likely to help you get relief from neuropathic pain and discomfort.

While certain medications can help control symptoms of RA, their long-term use could end up doing more harm than good. Now, recent evidence has surfaced, suggesting that medical cannabis may be a safer alternative remedy for reducing inflammation, which is the main cause of joint pain among patients with RA. “Cannabinoids stop the transmission of pain and decrease inflammation, and that’s very important for people with joint issues” said Jahan Marcu, chief scientific officer for Americans for Safe Access.

A viable option for treating symptoms of RA?

Medical experts stress that conventional treatment for RA is the best way to tackle its symptoms. In other words, individuals diagnosed with the disorder should never use alternative remedies as a substitute for disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). To this day, no treatment has been found to stop inflammation and to prevent joint damage the way in which DMARDs can.

Yet, what about using alternative remedies, such as medical cannabis, alongside conventional treatment? While the healthcare institution has shied away from treating RA-related pain with medical cannabis, some doctors say that there is great potential in this alternative remedy. Theories have surfaced, citing that medical cannabis may give off an anti-inflammatory effect, and that it may impact immune cells. Moreover, some studies have shown that medical cannabis may improve the efficacy of opiates, thereby allowing patients to lower their dosage of these more hazardous medications.  

In one particular study, researchers gathered the participation of 58 patients with RA. Each patient was either given cannabis or a placebo. Out of the 58 patients, 31 were given cannabis, 27 were given a placebo, and all were given oral spray at night for a period of 5 weeks. Throughout the weeks, the researchers observed specific factors, including quality of sleep, pain, and morning stiffness. By the end of the study, they found that the patients who were given cannabis reported improvement in their symptoms, as opposed to those who were given a placebo. “This is a good example of how to answer the question with scientifically sound experiments. We don’t know how the drug affects the disease process, but it does seem to have a positive analgesic effect on RA” said Kathryn Cunningham, director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

An array of cannabinoid products

As an individual living with RA, you can choose from a wide range of CBD-based options, including topical ointments, creams, and patches. Yet, by far, the most popular topic of discussion has been cannabidiol oil.

Also known as CBD oil, this medicinal ingredient derives from cannabis. However, it does not contain THC, which is the compound responsible for getting you ‘high’. CBD oil affects two receptors, CB1 and CB2. CB1 plays a role in pain sensation, sleep, memory, appetite, and mood, while CB2 affects the inflammatory process.

Seeing as how CB2 suppresses your immune system and RA is an immune-system related response, this could clarify why CBD oil seems to be effective for symptoms of RA. Moreover, the oil’s anti-inflammatory effects could help to slow down or stop the progression of the disorder, thereby preventing permanent joint damage over time.

CBD oil comes in two different forms: liquid and capsule. You can swallow the capsule orally or add the liquid form to your food or water. You can also mix in the liquid oil with your favorite lotion and apply it directly to your skin. In any case, it is best to consult with your doctor in order to determine the best dosage for your individual needs. Typically, it is advised to start out with a small dose so that you can see how your body reacts and then slowly work your way up in quantity. Additionally, you should discuss with your doctor the potential interactions with the medications you are currently taking, so that you can avoid unwanted side effects.

Most important, when choosing a CBD oil, you need to make sure that you get it from a trusted provider. You should also bare in mind that CBD oil has not received FDA approval and it remains illegal in several states across the country.

The bottom line

As of November 2018, the use of medical cannabis has been approved in 33 U.S. states. However, there are still considerable variation laws relating to the subject which range from state to state. These include how medical cannabis can be taken, what medical conditions it can be used for, and how it can be produced and distributed.

Up to now, studies exploring the benefits of medical cannabis for individuals with RA are promising, but there is a need for studies on a larger scale in order to determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Many doctors support the use of medical cannabis, but they do advise you to be aware that quality and consistency of the product can fluctuate to a great degree. “When we give patients with chronic pain a prescription … we say, ‘Start with one, try two or three if that doesn’t work.’ It’s the same with medical marijuana: Start low and see how it goes” said Dr. Donald Abrams, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California.