More than 31 million Americans suffer from arthritis. There are two main types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA), also referred to as arthritis of the bones, is primarily found among the elderly. This type of arthritis affects the joints, and occurs when the protective layer(s) of cartilage wear down, leaving the bones to rub directly against each other. OA can also occur as a result of obesity. As with any kind of arthritis, OA can be an extremely painful and debilitating condition that presents challenges for pain management. There is no known cure for osteoarthritis, but patients are able to treat some of the major symptoms, such as inflammation and pain, which can help to reduce stiffness and restore mobility. Research shows cannabis to be a viable treatment option for OA sufferers.
During the 19th century, cannabis tinctures were common on pharmacy shelves throughout North America and administered as a pain killer – often for arthritis. There are a couple of cannabinoids found in cannabis that have especially profound efficacy for those with arthritis: CBD and THC. Not only do these cannabinoids provide an analgesic effect but they have also been shown to have powerful immune-modulation and anti-inflammatory properties.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most abundant cannabinoid occurring in cannabis, produces strong pain and inflammation relieving effects. It is the same psychoactive component known to produce the feeling of being “high.” THC also contributes to a patient’s positive mental state, and can help to stimulate the appetite.
Like THC, cannabidiol (CBD) reduces pain and inflammation. Unlike THC, it is non-psychoactive, so patients are able to remain clear-headed and alert. CBD also produces comforting, calming effects in patients that is known to relieve the stress and anxiety that can be associated with severe pain.
Cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabidiol-acid (CBDA) also reduce inflammation. Cannabinol (CBN) relieves pain and inflammation, while also promoting sleep. CBN is a strong sedative, and may not be ideal for daytime consumption.
Modern research on CBD has found that it suppresses the immune response in mice and rats that is responsible for a disease resembling arthritis, protecting them from severe damage to their joints and significantly improving their condition. Cannabis has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to improve mobility and reduce morning stiffness and inflammation.
A study from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem found that when CBD is metabolized, one result is the creation of a compound with potent anti-inflammatory action comparable to pharmaceutical drugs but without the common side effects associated with such traditional medications.
A study released in 2011 from the scientific journal for Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics found that the combination of cannabis with opiates may have a synergistic effect. When patients received regular doses of cannabis along with their twice-daily doses of prescribed opioids, on average participants reported a 27 percent greater decrease in pain.
An article published in the AMA Journal of Ethics analyzed several of the studies available. The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California complete five placebo-controlled phase II clinical trials with cannabis. Another study reported from Canada studied patients with HIV neuropathy and other neuropathic conditions, and one study focused on a human model of neuropathic pain. Overall, the efficacy of cannabis was comparable to that of traditional medications prescribed for neuropathic pain. The article concluded that there is increasing evidence that cannabis may represent a useful alternative or adjunct in the management of painful peripheral neuropathy.