During the painkiller epidemic, some patients are turning to cannabis to reduce the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. Studies show that THC and CBD are effective against arthritis symptoms without side effects.
Arthritis is indicative of any disease that affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and reduced range of movement. It is the most common cause of disability and there is no treatment for it. Cannabis is becoming increasingly popular among patients as a treatment for arthritis because it reduces pain and swelling, and both THC and CBD have been undergoing laboratory or clinical experimentation for several years.
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS
The most common forms are osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that usually occurs in old age, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. Other forms of rheumatic diseases include gouty arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia and septic arthritis , among others. Pain is a common symptom in all types of arthritis, and the limited range of movement can lead to other adverse effects. In addition to physical therapy, exercise and weight control, inflammation and pain can also be reduced by certain medications. Many patients become addicted to painkillers and many die from the depressant effects of opiates on the central nervous system. There is an epidemic of painkillers in the United States and other countries as patients seek to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and other diseases. In states where cannabis is legal and many people use cannabis derivatives instead of painkillers, deaths from medical opioid use have fallen by 25 per cent.
LABORATORY TESTS CANNABIS AGAINST ARTHRITIS
Evidence from both laboratory and human trials shows that THC, CBD and the whole cannabis phytocomplex have therapeutic effects in the treatment of chronic pain and inflammation. An important clue about the scientific research on cannabis and pain comes from this 2007 study. Here, researchers point out that our nerves, which are responsible for transmitting pain signals from the joints to the brain, are full of cannabinoid receptors. The study concludes with the observation that marginal CB1 receptors could be important targets for osteoarthritis pain control.
As research continues, the animal cannabinoid receptor system will receive increasing attention as a therapeutic target for the treatment of pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as confirmed by this 2008 study. Following the same approach, another 2014 study analysed the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in osteoarthritis pain.
Now, a whole research field is working on CBD as an effective anti-arthritic agent without the psychotropic effects of THC. One of the first studies on the effects of CBD suggested the possible oral use of CBD as an anti-arthritic agent, while a more recent study concluded that synthetic cannabinoids derived from CBD are a potential new drug for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. According to this 2013 study, the CBD receptor CB2 also regulates central sensitisation and pain responses associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, is the main analgesic that has shown efficacy in the treatment of pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and resulted in a significant suppression of disease activity.
WHY NOT CANNABIS INSTEAD OF PAIN RELIEF?
The scientific consensus that has emerged from these and other studies mentioned above suggests that the anti-inflammatory effects of the two main cannabinoids may be effective in slowing the progression of arthritis and reducing its symptoms. A growing body of research suggests that cannabinoids are a possible treatment for arthritis, although most medical professionals or GPs are unaware of this potential. The lack of official guidelines and specific treatment protocols discourages health professionals from taking a potential interest in patients’ experiences with cannabis. Proven methods, formulations and dosages are needed to convince mainstream medicine that cannabis is effective against arthritis. This is really urgent.
OILS, SPRAYS OR TOPICAL PRODUCTS?
Depending on local legislation, reliable cannabinoid products for human health are available today. Methods of administration and dosages are not yet fully established, not least because the effects of phytotherapy and pain relief may vary from patient to patient. Cannabis edibles, oils and inhalable extracts can help relieve different types of pain, and cannabinoid-containing topical medicines are probably the most common cannabinoid treatment for joint pain.
Ointments and creams allow patients to target only the painful areas and saturate local cannabinoid receptors with phytocannabinoids. In most people’s experience, these products provide pain relief almost immediately. Recent studies also suggest that CBD and THC could partially repair damaged joints. This effect of topical application of cannabis derivatives on rheumatoid arthritis affected parts was recently analysed in the study “Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviour in a rat model of arthritis”. This 2016 study  shows that topical CBD application actually reduces arthritis pain and inflammation with no apparent adverse effects.
Given the amount of positive data accumulated over a few years, there is a good chance that a fully developed treatment for arthritis with cannabis will one day be developed. Why not try a well-known cannabis ointment or, better still, make a homemade arthritis treatment while we wait for more research? Here’s how to make a potent cannabis ointment from resin-rich buds.