RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS

A Brief
Description

More than 31 million Americans suffer from arthritis.  There are two main types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by a malfunction of the immune system which causes inflammation and pain in the body’s moveable joints. The immune system of RA sufferers sends cells, which would otherwise be used to attack a virus or bacteria, to the joints and surrounding tissues. This causes damaging inflammation that wears down cartilage so much that, over-time, bones can end up rubbing directly against one another to the point of erosion. In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis attacks symmetrically, meaning the same joints will be affected on both sides of the body.  RA can be an extremely painful and debilitating condition that presents challenges for pain management.

As with many autoimmune disorders, the one true cause of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown. Treatment regimens focus on relieving inflammation to prevent further damage and managing symptoms such as pain, inflammation, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Research shows that cannabinoid therapy is a viable treatment option for RA patients because it can treat symptoms as well as help to slow progression of the condition.

How Can
Cannabis Help?

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.

The psychoactive cannabinoid known for producing the feeling of being “high,” tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is also a very effective analgesic (pain reliever). It also acts to reduce inflammation, stimulate the appetite and can even help to maintain a positive mental state for patients in severe pain.

Like THC, cannabidiol (CBD) reduces pain and inflammation, but unlike THC, it is not psychoactive so patients are able to remain clear-headed. CBD also produces a calming, comforting effect in patients that is known to relieve the stress and anxiety associated with severe pain.

Cannabinol (CBN) is a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid that acts as a sedative, so it can help to promote restful sleep where RA pain may not normally allow. CBN also provides anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effects. Cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabidiol-acid (CBDA) also work to relieve inflammation.

What Does The
Research Say?

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.

Links To
Research

Cannabinoids: novel therapies for arthritis?

Cannabinoids and the immune system: potential for the treatment of inflammatory diseases?

Expression of cannabinoid receptor 2 and its inhibitory effects on synovial fibroblasts in rheumatoid arthritis.

Cannabidiol as an emergent therapeutic strategy for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress.

While research has shown cannabis to be effective in providing palliative and therapeutic effects for some patients, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before starting any new treatment utilizing medical cannabis or discontinuing an existing treatment. The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.