Characterized by pain and inflammation in the joints, arthritis affects one in four adults over the age of 18, and one in every 250 children. It’s also the leading cause of disability in the United States. While there are many types of arthritis, they all typically involve swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion in the joints. These symptoms may be mild or severe, and may come and go, but for most they represent a daily struggle with pain and the ability to function normally. In severe cases, patients may even be unable to complete simple tasks like walking or grasping objects.
For many of those with severe arthritis, the options are limited: suffer through the pain, or take dangerous and addictive painkillers like opiates. In this article, part of our series for cannabis newcomers, we explore cannabis as another, safer option to prescription painkillers. A growing number of arthritis sufferers are flocking to cannabis for its pain- and inflammation-reducing effects.
Chris, an arthritis sufferer from Gilroy, CA, says that he’s found great relief using cannabis. The 34-year-old was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a child—at around age eight or nine—when fevers, pain and inflammation began interfering with his life. After suffering through a painful childhood, Chris decided to try cannabis as an adult.
"I had friends suggesting I try cannabis for medical purposes,” Chris says. “I decided to go ahead and give it a try. And then, lo and behold, it started helping a lot with inflammation and whenever I would have soreness or stiffness.”
Chris says he’s been able to reduce his pain with the use of cannabis, and while not completely gone, the plant has helped him function in spite of his pain. Chris says he prefers this option to pharmaceuticals. “Cannabis never numbs you completely, as opposed to using opiates and stuff like that which completely numbs you,” he explains.
According to Chris, topicals and smoked cannabis have been most helpful. He’s also found that strain selection is key. “I've noticed different strains help with different symptoms [better] than others do,” he says. “So that's also something I'm exploring.”
Chris has been using cannabis daily for the past five years now. His opinion on cannabis for arthritis? “It helps, quite significantly,” he says.
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Chris joins a growing number of folks who are finding cannabis can help them. When it comes to arthritis, chronic pain is the main symptom that patients seek to address; it’s also the most common reason people use cannabis.
In fact, in a recent study conducted by UC Berkeley and HelloMD, 81% of patients reported that cannabis alone was more effective at relieving their pain than using opioids was. Meanwhile, almost all survey respondents (97%) reported that they were able to lower their dose of opioids by introducing cannabis into their pain-management regimen. Similar results were reported for patients using non-opioid painkillers as well.
In addition, cannabis can help with inflammation, which is often at the root of arthritis. Scientists have begun to study the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis and hope to use it specifically on rheumatoid arthritis.
It turns out that our body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) has a lot to do with moderating our immune system and inflammation levels. Since certain cannabinoids are able to activate the ECS, scientists believe cannabis’s phytocannabinoids may be able to reduce inflammation while actually beginning to reverse the damage caused by it. One Canadian study that’s currently underway is looking at this mechanism to see if cannabis therapies can actually aid in the repair and reduction of pain caused by arthritis.
If you suffer from arthritis and think cannabis might be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online.
Whether you have a medical marijuana card or live in a state where you can purchase through recreational means, there are many options you can try. Cannabis’s many forms can help arthritis, so it’s really about finding the best options for you. Marijuana-infused topicals, for example, can be applied directly to the affected area without any psychoactive effects. Some folks prefer cannabis edibles for their long-lasting, full-body pain relief, while others choose to smoke and vape for its quick-acting effects.
Whatever you try, remember that cannabis can affect people differently, so you may need to try a few options before you find the right one for you.
In the next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, we'll get into how cannabis works as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Photo credit: Felipe P. Lima Rizo