For many Canadians, especially seniors, the inflammation and stiffness caused by arthritis is a painful truth.
The Toronto-based Arthritis Society points out that some form of the progressive disease afflicts one in two people over the age of 65, and about 60% of the women in this age bracket cope with it.
The results can be devastating, as arthritis interferes with daily living or work, and contributes to sleeplessness, mood disorders, and other health issues. While there is no cure yet for arthritis, various drugs and therapies are used to treat its symptoms, with medical cannabis increasingly being added to the mix.
The growing movement of the elderly turning to medical marijuana for arthritic pain relief is revealed in a study published earlier this month in the in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Not only are more seniors using medical cannabis, the majority of them are starting after age 60.
An abstract of the study reveals that 53% of the 568 participants in the research conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine used cannabis on a weekly or daily basis, and 46% used CBD-only cannabis products. Furthermore, 73% of the elderly subjects employed it for pain/arthritis, 29% for sleep disturbances, 24% for anxiety, and 17% for depression.
“Just over three‐quarters reported cannabis [to be] ‘somewhat’ or ‘extremely’ helpful in managing one of these conditions, with few adverse effects,” the study abstract claims.
Traditional Treatments for Arthritis
The Mayo Clinic states the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. “Osteoarthritis causes cartilage — the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint — to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.”
Treatments, and sometimes combinations of them, are used to relieve symptoms, including pain, and help with joint function. In addition to physical therapy and surgery, traditional treatments employ various medications (depending on arthritis type). These include:
Painkillers: To reduce pain, arthritis sufferers use both over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylneol), and, for more severe pain, opioids, such as ramadol (Ultram, ConZip), oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone, others) or hydrocodone (Hysingla, Zohydro ER).
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are available both over the counter and by prescription, and work to relieve both the pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve).
Counterirritants: Some varieties of topical creams and ointments containing menthol or capsaicin are used to treat pain.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, slowing or stopping the immune system from attacking a person’s joints. DMARDS include methotrexate (Trexall, Rasuvo, others) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).
Biologic response modifiers: These genetically engineered drugs that target various protein molecules that are involved in the immune response.
Corticosteroids: This class of drugs — including prednisone (Prednisone Intensol, Rayos) and cortisone (Cortef) — reduces inflammation and suppresses the immune system.
Medical Cannabis for Arthritis Pain
The Arthritis Society says, “Research has increasingly shown that for some people with arthritis, medical cannabis can be a safe and effective alternative to opioids and other medications in the management of pain and some other symptoms.”
And WebMD states “there is substantial evidence that CBD can help relieve long-term pain. And pain is a major symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.” Additionally, some evidence suggests it helps to curb morning pain (but not overall pain), improve sleep, and lower inflammation in joints (but not joint stiffness).
A controlled study, by the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Disease in the UK, showed that cannabinoids (compounds in cannabis) provided helped with the pain associated with movement, during rest, and the quality of sleep.
Other small studies show that cannabis-based medicine can help in treating the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. There is also evidence to suggest that cannabis can serve as a viable alternative to opioids, relieving pain without the same risks of addiction and death.
“Cannabis is much more effective and safer long-term solution than opioids,” claims Mike Hart, head physician of the Ontario Chapter at Marijuana for Trauma (MFT). “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.”
CBD vs. THC in Medical Cannabis
The key active ingredients in medical marijuana are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the psychoactive component that can cause cognitive impairment at higher doses. At smaller doses, it can help alleviate pain, anxiety, tension, and nausea.
CBD is a “non-euphoric” ingredient used to treat inflammation and chronic pain and manage anxiety and insomnia. It is also sometimes used to counteract the effects of THC when the two compounds are consumed together.
The Arthritis Society advises: “Medical cannabis products can contain only CBD, THC, or a balance of the two. It’s recommended that individuals with arthritis start with CBD-dominant products and introduce THC in small amounts if needed.”
Ways to Take Medical Cannabis
When treating the symptoms of arthritis and other health condition, medical cannabis can be ingested, inhaled, applied topically as a cream, or dissolved as a spray. The forms it comes in include:
Cannabis oil: Diluted with carrier oils such sunflower or avocado oil, cannabis oil can be put in a capsule, and mixed with food or drink, or used in a dropper, and applied under the tongue.
Sprays: These are sprayed under the tongue and absorbed into the blood stream.
**Topicals: **Cannabis creams can be applied to the skin and absorbed into the blood. They can provide pain relief on the site where they are applied.
Edibles: Cannabis-infused foods are processed by the body’s digestive system. They usually take longer to act than other methods but the effects also last longer.
Inhaled vaporizers: Vaporizers use heating elements to activate the CBD and THC ingredients. Smoking medical cannabis is generally not recommended.
The Arthritis Society advises: “If you are using medical cannabis for the first time, it’s recommended to start with a CBD-dominant product at the lowest dose, and gradually increase your dosage until your symptom needs are met. Capsules and oil make it easier to accurately track dosage and find the lowest dose for symptom management.”
Medical Cannabis Choices to Treat Your Arthritis
If you are a senior you may have questions about how medical cannabis might be used. What side effects or interactions with other drugs should you be aware of? What types of medication would be best for your conditions, and what doses and used how?
These questions and others you may have can be addressed by the knowledgeable health care professionals at Medical Cannabis by Shoppers for Seniors. Contact us today to set up a free consultation to find out if medical cannabis is the right treatment for you.