EducationCannabis for arthritis: what you should know

Cannabis for arthritis: what you should know

10 min read

Sam North

Cannabis for arthritis: what you should know


Patients battling arthritis often experience chronic pain, and when left untreated, the pain associated with the condition can prevent them from carrying out daily activities and living a normal, healthy, fulfilling life.

While cannabis has been shown to produce over 110 cannabinoids, there are two that are really showing promise in therapeutic settings, especially when it comes to the potential reduction of symptoms of arthritis. 

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the 2 'major' cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant and the two that are being primarily studied for their therapeutic effects. THC is known to offer intoxicating properties, while CBD does not produce a “high”. Both are recognised as offering potential anti-inflammatory properties, along with a range of other therapeutic benefits.

New research is showing the potential of both cannabinoids as a possible therapeutic option to be administered in conjunction with traditional arthritis management protocols. Although there is no cure for arthritis, research suggests cannabinoids help relieve the pain, inflammation, and anxiety that is often associated with arthritis.

In today's article, we will discuss the science behind medicinal cannabis for arthritis, as well as provide information on how to incorporate this new form of treatment into your existing management protocol. We will also discuss the potential risks associated with medical cannabis administration, and what you should consider before starting on this new journey into your existing treatment plan. 

Types of arthritis

For people that have never dealt with this debilitating condition, it might come as somewhat of a surprise that arthritis actually comes in a variety of forms. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout are the four major types - but, the full list of arthritic conditions is much longer. 

The treatment for each form of arthritis is different and, depending on your individual needs, some treatments may work better than others. Because of this, it’s important to discuss all your treatment options with your doctor before beginning any kind of therapy or changing your current treatment plan. 

In this article, we are going to keep the focus open, and look at arthritis in general instead of focusing on one particular form of arthritis. But, before we dive into the science, let's quickly break down the most common forms of arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis: This type of arthritis occurs when the cartilage surrounding a joint becomes degraded over time, leading to friction and pain.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This type of arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disorder, where the body’s own immune system begins to attack the lining of your joints.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis: This type of arthritis is similar to rheumatoid arthritis, however, it is linked to a specific skin condition called psoriasis.
  • Gout: This type of arthritis is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, which builds up and forms crystals in the joint.

Components of cannabis

According to research, there are over 550 components of cannabis. These included not only cannabinoids, but also flavonoids, terpenes, and other secondary compounds. Of these components, it is the cannabinoids that are most studied and understood for their potential therapeutic effect. 

To add to this, there is a generally accepted theory known as the “Entourage Effect” which describes how the combination of all these components offers a more beneficial effect than any single component on its own. 

The two main cannabinoids that have been studied are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) - 

  • CBD: CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that has been linked to many potential therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects.
  • THC: THC is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis and is responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis use. But, it has also been linked to potential therapeutic benefits, including a reduction in pain and inflammation.

Both CBD and THC are known as “phytocannabinoids”, or cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. However, there are also “endocannabinoids”, which are cannabinoids produced naturally by the human body.

Next up, let's look at how these compounds are able to interact with the human body, and offer the possible therapeutic effects they have been linked with.

How cannabis works in the body

Every human contains a regulatory internal system that is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system helps to regulate a vast number of bodily functions, including mood, appetite, sleep, pain perception, and inflammatory response. 

Research is pointing to the fact that the ECS essentially oversees homeostasis, or balance, in the body.

The ECS is made up of three main components:

  • Endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the human body)
  • Receptors (which endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids have the ability to bind to, resulting in various effects)
  • Metabolic enzymes (which help to break down endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids once their function has been served)

So, how does cannabis interact with the ECS?

Simply put, when you ingest or inhale cannabis, the cannabinoids from the plant attach to the receptors in your ECS and modulate various bodily responses. 

Studies have shown that, through these interaction, both THC and CBD both have the potential to reduce inflammation, pain, and anxiety - all of which are common symptoms of arthritis. Additionally, research suggests that they may be able to improve sleep quality, which can be a major issue for those battling arthritis 

The effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for arthritis

While there is limited research that supports the direct effects of cannabis for arthritis, there are a bunch of papers and a ton of clinical research that does support the fact that both THC and CBD may be efficient in reducing the symptoms of arthritis. 

One paper that does directly look at medicinal cannabis and arthritis is "Cannabidiol as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain: an exploratory cross-sectional study”. The paper concludes that cannabidiol (CBD) has shown promise in reducing inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. The study found that CBD administration was associated with improvements in pain, physical function, and sleep quality. The majority of respondents reported a reduction or cessation of other medications after CBD application. 

Another paper, while not focusing specifically in arthritis, does offer some insight. The paper discusses the implemtntation of cannabis in treating inflammation, with the authors reporting that cannabis extracts may inhibit inflammatory responses. The paper also discusses the various phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids produced by cannabis and their potential activity against inflammation, concluding that cannabis components might be combined with pharmaceutical drugs to reduce inflammation.

 “Cannabidiol: A Brief Review of Its Therapeutic and Pharmacologic Efficacy in the Management of Joint Disease” is one more very interesting paper focusing on the subject. In it, the authors point out time and again the potential benefits of CBD in attenuating pro-inflammatory immune responses and decreasing endogenous pain, both of which would serve arthritis patients. 

And while these three pieces of research do focus more heavily on CBD than THC, there is some science that suggests the intoxicating compound may be more than just a bit of fun.

"Cannabis and pain: a scoping review” looks into the effectiveness of THC in reducing pain, finding it to be highly effective in reducing both acute and chronic pain, also stating that cannabis-based medications appear to be mostly safe, but mild adverse effects may be common.

How to take medicinal cannabis for arthritis

Before we dive into the guts of this section, it is imperative that we first discuss just how important it is to seek the advice of a doctor that is registered to provide medical cannabis before trying any cannabis-based options. While medical cannabis is showing potential to be a powerful ally in reducing arthritic symptoms, there is still much research to be done before any concrete claims can be made. 

By consulting with a doctor that both experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis and understands the condition, it ensures that you are making an appropriate decision for your individual health. This article is no more than a guide into the current science and is not to be seen as a replacement for medical advice.

When it comes to medicating with cannabis, there are a few different options available. Vaporising the dried flower of the plant is one of the most common methods of administration, as it provides rapid onset effects that last for up to two hours or so. It also comes with much fewer health concerns when compared to smoking, and is extremely discreet. 

For those who would prefer not to vape, the administration of a medicinal cannabis tincture sublingually is another option that offers a fast onset of effects discreetly.  It involves dropping a measured dose of cannabis tincture under the tongue and holding it there for up to a minute or so before swallowing.

Finally, those looking at medicating longer-lasting effects may consider edibles. The range of edible options now available to medical cannabis patients is pretty astounding, with everything from chocolate bars to gummy bears and pretty much everything in between now available. When dosed correctly, edibles can provide long-lasting effects that may be more suitable for those looking at managing long-term chronic pain. It is essential to understand that with any cannabis ingestibles (edibles or drinks containing cannabinoids), the onset of effects is delayed, and can take up to two hours before they are felt. 

Safety considerations

As with all forms of medication, natural or pharmaceutical, there are certain safety considerations that must be taken into account when using cannabis. As mentioned above, it is essential to speak to a medical professional before trying any form of medicinal cannabis, as they will be able to properly assess the individual's condition and advise accordingly.

It is also important to note that while many studies have shown the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for arthritis, not all strains and products may be suitable for the condition. The entourage effect, or the synergistic interactions between various cannabinoids and terpenes, means that certain combinations of compounds may provide more relief than others. As such, it is essential to consult with an experienced cannabis practitioner in order to ensure you are selecting a strain and product that is most likely to produce the desired effects, and that you are dosing correctly. 

The side effects of medicinal cannabis are less severe than many pharmaceutical options, but they are still worthy of consideration. 

They include:

  • Dry mouth 
  • Red eyes,
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Racing heartbeat
  • An altered mental state. 

Although the safety profile of medical cannabis is generally high, keep in mind that long-term consumption may lead to cognitive decline in some individuals. As such, medical cannabis should be taken in moderation and only under the guidance of a doctor or healthcare practitioner. 

Final thoughts on cannabis for arthritis

While the research into exactly how medicinal cannabis may help ease the burden of arthritis is still very much in its infancy, what we do know suggests that it may be a powerful ally in potentially reducing pain, inflammation, and improving sleep quality for those living with the condition.

It is essential to speak to a medical professional before making any decisions on cannabis-based medication, as they will be able to properly assess your individual needs and advise accordingly.

At Releaf, we believe that access to medical cannabis is important. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection. 

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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