Arthritis is a term used to describe any disorder that affects joints. Symptoms generally include pain, stiffness, inflammation around the joints and fatigue. There are over 100 types of arthritic diseases but the most common are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Both conditions are caused due to different reasons but share the common symptom of inflammation and extreme pain.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is caused by a malfunction of the immune system, whereas Osteoarthritis is caused by the joint’s wear and tear.
It’s a very common yet very less understood disease. According to National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an estimated 54.4 million of adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. In the United States, one in every 10 people suffers from some form of arthritis making it the number one cause of disability.
Body’s natural pain regulator- The endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our body is a large complex network of cell receptors and cannabis-like compounds, such as- Anandamide and 2-AG, that influence many of our bodily functions such as mood, appetite, sleep, Immune system, and pain. It helps in maintaining the balance and the overall health of our body. The ECS constitutes two main receptors namely, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are found in the body’s periphery. Scientists believe that the activation of CB2 receptors can be very effective in treating many inflammatory conditions.
A scientific paper published in Rheumatology shows that the joint tissues of RA patients contain unusually high amount of CB2 receptors, which according to the scientists is the response of the body’s endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation.
Studies regard cannabinoids present in marijuana, as a novel anti-inflammatory drug making it an effective alternative in the treatment of arthritis, especially the rheumatoid variety.
When Marijuana is consumed the cannabinoids present in this herb engages with the body’s ECS and changes the way the body regulates our mood, immune system, pain, and appetite, sleep and can affect even dreams.
While the scientists are still to reach a consensus whether Marijuana can be effectively used in the treatment of RA, there have been successful clinical and preclinical trials confirming its therapeutic value.
It is interesting to note that marijuana has been used as an alternative treatment for arthritis since 2800 BC. In the modern world too, marijuana is gaining popularity as a treatment for arthritis.
How Marijuana helps?
Treatment of arthritis usually focuses on relieving pain and inflammation, and improving joint functions.
Marijuana contains two plant cannabinoids- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). These cannabinoids give marijuana powerful immune modulation and anti-inflammatory properties making it effective in relieving the symptoms of arthritis.
THC is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect in Rheumatoid Arthritis, it helps in restoring the balance of an overactive immune system by provoking the death of immune cells that are attacking the body. It is also known to reduce the anxiety and depression that commonly accompany arthritis. CBD is anti-proliferative, therefore it prevents the active immune cells from spreading further, thus preventing inflammation.
These two cannabinoids also have a powerful antioxidant effect which helps in reducing pain and inflammation. Scientists believe that Cannabidiol (CBD) gets its analgesic effect from its antioxidant properties.
Both CBD and THC are known to engage with the CB2 receptors. THC directly connects with the receptor, triggering an anti-inflammatory response, whereas CBD increases the level of endocannabinoids in the body. The cannabinoids in the marijuana engages with the body’s endocannabinoid system and further enhances the body’s self-repair system. It calms the inflammation and gives the nerves and tissues some time to recover.
Moreover, marijuana helps ease the pain and reduce inflammation without any side effects as compared to the potentially life-threatening side effects caused by prolonged use of NSAID or opiate. Most painkillers may be addictive and can take a toll on the body. Thus, apart from various other benefits of marijuana, it helps people get off medications that might have an adverse effect on the body from long term use.
According to Mike Hart, MD, head physician of the Ontario Chapter at Marijuana for Trauma (MFT): “Cannabis is much more effective and safer long-term solution than opioids. The science is clear and demonstrates that cannabis is far safer than opioids. In fact, it’s not even close. Opioids have killed more people than all illegal drugs combined, while cannabis has never killed a single person.”
According to a clinical trial three puffs of cannabis a day can reduce arthritis pain.
Thus, the right dose of THC and CBD can effectively reduce the swelling and pain. The herb can be consumed through smoking, vaping or ingesting oral forms. CBD oil is highly beneficial for health and is absolutely essential for any kind of joint pain, they can be taken internally or added with coconut oil to make a cannabis-infused hand cream. However, the best way to consume marijuana is in its raw form as a juice or a smoothie as it gives a much larger dose of cannabinoids than simply smoking or vaping the herb.
Different individuals might need to experiment with different treatments or combination of treatments and therapies to find out what works best for them.