Medical Marijuana For Arthritis: A Natural Cure?


  • There are over 100 medications available for arthritis
  • However, some patients do not respond well to traditional treatments
  • Humans have used medical marijuana for arthritis since 2800 BC
  • Cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties
  • Cannabinoids may also protect cartilage from breaking down
  • A human study found that Sativex improved pain on movement, pain at rest, and quality of sleep in patients with arthritis – Medical marijuana seems to be a gift from nature for anyone who suffers from pain, which is a symptom that most patients with arthritis are all-too-familiar with. Interestingly, the earliest evidence of medical marijuana’s use as a treatment for arthritis dates as far back as 2800 BC, which makes it more of a historical finding than a scientific breakthrough.

Today, more than 31 million Americans suffer from arthritis. And while the Arthritis Foundation lists over 100 different medications that are available for this disease, many patients continue to suffer from painful and often debilitating symptoms without adequate relief.

For those patients, medical marijuana seems to provide hope.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a joint disorder that can affect anyone of any age, but is most common among the aging population. Arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the joints, which is often accompanied by severe pain.

Although there are over 100 different forms of arthritis, the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Both cause pain and swelling of the joints and result in limited movement.

Pharmaceutical advancements have resulted in a wide availability of arthritis drugs, which are more helpful to some individuals than others. For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the use of anti-rheumatic drugs may be able to slow disease progression during earlier stages. However, the vast majority of patients must depend on lifelong treatment in order to mitigate joint damage and functional losses.

Unfortunately, there are no drugs available that can slow the progression of osteoarthritis and traditional anti-inflammatory drugs are not always effective in relieving symptoms of pain. Furthermore, drugs used to treat both forms of arthritis are often accompanied by intolerable side-effects. As a result, arthritis research continues to investigate new modes of therapy, which has led scientists to consider nature’s oldest form of arthritis medicine – medical marijuana.

How Can Marijuana Help?

Anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s benefits is clear. A survey conducted in 2005 found that 16% of medical marijuana users in the UK were using it to treat symptoms of arthritis. Scientific research lends support to this finding, as studies show that medical marijuana can be beneficial for sufferers of arthritis in a variety of ways.

Perhaps the strongest scientific evidence comes from studies that have found cannabinoids – the active compounds in marijuana – to have both anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Furthermore, studies suggest that the endocannabinoid system may play a direct role in regulating bone mass and may even be able to protect against the breakdown of cartilage.

Unfortunately, most of the research on cannabinoids has been limited to animal models and arthritis is no exception. Even still, numerous studies have provided overwhelming evidence of medical marijuana’s ability to reduce joint inflammation and related pain symptoms. Based on these preliminary findings, researchers have slowly shifted their attention to humans in recent years.

In 2004, GW Pharmaceuticals – the makers of Sativex – sponsored one of the only clinical trials to investigate the effect of marijuana-derived compounds on patients with arthritis.

The study was conducted on 58 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who reported insufficient relief from traditional medications. After using Sativex – an oral spray containing marijuana-derived cannabinoids THC and CBD – over a 5 week period, the patients reported significant improvements across a number of symptoms, including pain on movement, pain at rest, and quality of sleep. Furthermore, Sativex seemed to be well tolerated by patients, exhibiting much milder side-effects than the majority of conventional arthritis treatments.

While the Sativex study did not investigate the biological mechanisms behind these improvements, more recent studies have been able to confirm the therapeutic role of the endocannabinoid system in arthritis.

For instance, a study published in 2008 was able to show for the first time that cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are present in the knee joints of patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. What’s more, the study identified the presence of two endocannabinoids – anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) – in the synovial fluid of arthritis patients, but not in samples taken from healthy volunteers. Endocannabinoids are known to be synthesized and released by the body in response to a variety of biological dysfunctions, suggesting that activity of the endocannabinoid system may be one of the body’s natural mechanisms for fighting arthritis.

What This Means For Your Health

While research seems promising, it is important for patients to remember that only one clinical trial has been completed so far. As a result, it is likely that health professionals will remain apprehensive for the time being about the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of arthritis in actual practice.

Even still, a combination of strong preclinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that medical marijuana may indeed be able to relieve symptoms of pain and joint inflammation and without the debilitating side-effects common to traditional arthritis medications.

“It’s not going to cure the disease, but it will do a lot to alleviate the pain and suffering of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Cannabis is probably less harmful than other available painkillers.” – Arthritis Research Campaign

As it stands today, it is difficult for even doctors to deny the potential benefits that arthritis patients may gain from using medical marijuana as an alternative to pharmaceuticals.

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