What Is Arthritis & Can Cannabis Help?

byMarcus Clarke5 minutes

You probably know someone who suffers from arthritis—a painful condition that could cause long-term joint damage. In 2017, it was estimated that as many as 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. It’s also thought that more than four and a half million of those are Canadian. And though most people think of it as something that only affects older folks, people as young as 15 have been diagnosed with the disease. While the usual course of treatment can include powerful pharmaceuticals, recent research shows that cannabis may be an effective low-risk treatment for arthritis patients.

What Exactly Is Arthritis?

Put simply, arthritis is inflammation and/or degeneration of the joints and can affect almost any body part. Joints are where bones come together, like in the fingers, toes and hips. The body’s larger joints, such as the knees, are especially vulnerable to the condition. If left untreated, arthritis could develop into a painful chronic disorder. There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Osteoarthritis causes cartilage—the slippery tissue that can be found where bones form a joint—to break down. RA is a progressive autoimmune disorder marked by chronic joint inflammation that worsens over time. Both conditions could cause permanent damage to the cartilage and bone of the affected areas. The causes of arthritis are varied and have been linked to:

  • Certain genes: Familial arthritis may make you more vulnerable to environmental factors.
  • Age: The risk of arthritis increases with age.
  • Excess weight: Excess weight puts stress on the joints.
  • Injuries: Previous joint injuries increase the chance of developing arthritis.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop RA than men are.

Arthritis symptoms may differ on a daily basis and from individual to individual. In general, common symptoms of arthritis will involve the joints. Key signs of arthritis include:

  • Early morning stiffness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Numbness and a tingling sensation in the hands

Accompanying signs of RA could even include:

  • Inflammation of the lungs, causing difficulty breathing (known as pleurisy)
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy or dry eyes
  • Hard lumps under the skin near the affected joints

Can Cannabis Help Ease Arthritis?

While nothing can claim to be a natural cure for arthritis, cannabis is a natural alternative or accompanying treatment that could potentially ease arthritis symptoms.

Despite the fact that RA experts generally agree that disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs are most effective in stopping inflammation and preventing joint damage, research studies and patient findings show that those drugs aren’t the only thing that quells inflammation—marijuana can, too.

Cannabis contains more than 80 cannabinoids, which bind with the body’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS). The two major cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are reported to help reduce pain in arthritis-related inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD are especially effective.

One study in the medical journal Rheumatology shows that cannabis is a promising RA treatment, because it reduces inflammation by activating the body’s CB2 receptor pathways. Further research shows that patients with end-stage osteoarthritis and RA stand to benefit from cannabis treatments. The synovia—the fluid found between joints—of these patients shows cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors and increased levels of the endocannabinoids anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG. This suggests that cannabis can interact with these endocannabinoid receptors to reduce inflammation and associated pain.

Suggested Cannabis Strains to Help Treat Arthritis

Some well-known marijuana strains that have been reported to combat arthritis include:

  • Afghani: While most pain-relief marijuana strains are high in CBD, Afghani is a strong indica strain that delivers relaxing and sedating effects. The aroma is earthy with a touch of sweetness, and patients with chronic pain seem to prefer this cannabis strain.
  • Cannatonic: This is a low-THC, high-CBD marijuana strain that produces a short-lived mellow high while treating pain and inflammation. It has a slight citrus flavour, and thanks to a CBD content of 6–17%, Cannatonic is a great strain for relaxation.
  • ACDC: A sativa-dominant strain known for its low-THC, high-CBD ratio, it provides instant pain relief for most, but with little to no psychoactive effects. ACDC strains can have up to 19% CBD content, with a 20:1 CBD to THC ratio.
  • Harlequin: Another sativa-dominant marijuana strain, this plant comes with a 5:2 CBD to THC ratio. Harlequin is regarded as one of the most effective strains against pain as the CBD counteracts the paranoia often associated with THC. Flavours include everything from musky to sweet mango undertones.
  • Canna-Tsu: Canna-Tsu is a hybrid strain made by crossing Cannatonic and Sour Tsunami. Another strain with citrusy flavours, Canna-Tsu is popular for treating pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.

More Answers to Arthritis as Marijuana Research Grows

The number of countries legalizing cannabis for medical purposes is steadily growing. Many of these countries are advancing research and analysis about the positive health attributes of cannabis in treating arthritis, in particular RA. There’s enough evidence to show that marijuana could be a value-adding complimentary treatment for inflammation and pain resulting from arthritis. Ask your doctor if a cannabis treatment may be right for you.

Photo credit: Ira Selendripity