It’s well documented that Cannabis has analgesic properties. But can it help with arthritis?
The crushing, debilitating, and never-ending pain of arthritis is draining for sufferers. Use of painkillers and anti-inflammatories have side effects and diminishing returns. Is Cannabis the answer?
How Do Pain Relievers Know Where the Pain Is?
It’s easy to imagine that when you pop a painkiller, it somehow targets the source of the pain. A little pain relief army storms towards your sore knee or cramped-up fingers and swarm over it, magically resolving the problems.
But that’s not how it works.
Pain relief works in your brain and nervous system, not where the pain is located. When a body part is experiencing pain, chemicals called prostaglandins are released. Nerve endings pick up the chemical and send messages to the brain about the location, strength, and type of pain.
In short, pain relief stops your brain from interpreting it as pain in one of two ways:
- Anti inflammatory medications work by stopping the injured cells from making and released prostaglandins
- Painkillers work in your brain, stopping the pain signals so your brain doesn’t tell you it’s feeling pain
How Does Arthritis Cause Pain?
This isn’t easy to answer because there are a range of types of arthritis, and their mechanisms are different.
Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage in the joints degrades and becomes rough. The body tries to repair it, and this can lead to three outcomes:
- Osteophytes, which are tiny bits of extra bone, can grow at the end of the bone
- Extra thick fluid forms (called synovial fluid) and becomes inflamed
- The synovial lining stretches, and the joint loses shape
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease. The body attacks itself and causes inflammation, sending extra blood and fluid to the joint to fight an infection that doesn’t exist. This leads to extra fluid in the joints, causing a range of problems.
- Chemicals in the fluid can erode the exposed areas of bone
- The extra fluid means the joint isn’t as easy to move and can be painful
- The fluid can stretch the joint capsule, which doesn’t contract to ‘normal’ size
- The fluid can irritate nerve endings
There are other problems that specifically affect the joints too. These include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)
- Gout and calcium crystal diseases
How Does CBD Work to Manage Pain?
Cannabidiol (CBD) works to manage pain through the endocannabinoid system and its interactions with nociceptive (pain) systems. CBD oil releases neurotransmitters that:
- Stop or minimise the release of pain-related neurotransmitters, stopping the pain signals being sent to the brain
- Break down the neurotransmitters, stopping the process
- Activating the pain pathways that deactivate pain
- Actively reducing nerve inflammation
Using these mechanisms, CBD can be an incredibly effective way to control all sorts of pain, including arthritis.
Applied to the skin, CBD also appears to have some wound healing, anti-itching, analgesic, anti-proliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects too.
CBD for Arthritis
As of 2022, there are very few controlled, human studies into CBD and arthritis. Anecdotally, many people report improvement. It’s also important to note that there are very few side effects or negative outcomes reported by people who have taken CBD.
There are three methods of use: ‘transdermal’ (applied externally on the skin), orally (sublingual drops or in capsule form) and inhalation.
Thumb basal joint arthritis is generally a type of osteoarthritis. This study applied CBD topically, either alone or using a carrier cream (shea butter). This controlled, randomized study showed significant improvements in pain levels without adverse side effects.
Another study looked into CBD effects on rheumatoid arthritis and synovial fibroblasts (RASF), which appear to be the cause of many symptoms. It found that CBD targeted the pro-inflammatory RASF, giving it anti-arthritic qualities.
Of particular interest for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, it appears that immune responses are regulated by CBD. Studies in rats and mice show promise for arthritis treatment via CBD.
Self reported studies are very positive, likely because people are taking CBD because they have found it works for them. One study of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis types showed:
- 83% of respondent noted improvements in pain levels
- 66% of people had improved both sleep quality and physical functions improved
- Most people reported a reduction in use of anti-inflammatories
THC and Arthritis
The argument for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is that it appears better at stopping the brain from perceiving pain. While CBD may work to ease the pain at the source, THC stops you feeling the pain.
As well as this, the ability of THC to help with sleeping is well known. Any chronic pain sufferer experiences a disrupted sleep due to pain; having restful and restorative sleep can help life seem better and less stressful.
Is Cannabis the Cure for Arthritis?
Cannabis cannot cure arthritis. But, it can help manage the symptoms, allow you to have a happier life, without the side effects of traditional drugs.
If you want to try CBD and THC for arthritis, contact us. We can make a time to discuss the options available, and see if Cannabis is a good choice for your health.