Medical Marijuana for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint in the body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips and spine.
As a result of the large range of activities people perform on an everyday basis using their joints (e.g. holding a cup, writing, typing, turning on a faucet, tying shoelaces, eating, walking, kneeling, squatting, bending, etc.), symptoms can be severely debilitating, significantly interfering in the lives of patients who suffer from it. According to the CDC’s osteoarthritis website:
- Osteoarthritis of the knee is 1 of 5 leading causes of disability among non-institutionalized adults.
- About 80% of patients with [osteoarthritis] have some degree of movement limitation.
- About 40% of adults with knee [osteoarthritis] reported their health “poor” or “fair.”
A study published recently in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health shows that synthetic medical marijuana treatment reduces osteoarthritis-related cartilage breakdown. The findings align with years of anecdotal evidence suggesting cannabis may fight osteoarthritis-related cartilage breakdown as well as treating pain and discomfort that typically accompany the degenerative joint disease.
Cannabis has also been shown to have powerful immune-modulation and anti-inflammatory properties, suggesting that it could play a role, not just in symptom management but treatment of arthritis. In fact, one of the earliest records of medical use of cannabis, a Chinese text dating from ca. 2000 BC, notes that cannabis “undoes rheumatism,” suggesting its anti-inflammatory and immune modulating effects were known even then.
Modern research on cannabidiol (CBD), one of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid components of cannabis, 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 markedly improving their condition. Human studies have repeatedly shown cannabis to be an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, and it is one of the enumerated conditions for which many states allow legal medical use. Cannabis has a demonstrated ability to improve mobility and reduce morning stiffness and inflammation. Research has also shown that patients are able to reduce their usage of potentially harmful Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) when using cannabis as an adjunct therapy.
Cannabinoid therapies have a favourable safety profile, patients with osteoarthritis have a significantly decreased quality of life as a result of their symptoms, and the burden for patients translates into large financial losses. Therefore, finding safe alternative ways to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis for patients who are not experiencing optimal relief from standard therapies, or who are experiencing significant negative side effects from standard therapies that could be partially replaced by cannabis use, is essential.
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