There are several types of arthritis, but the most common is Osteoarthritis (OA). OA is a degenerative joint disease that causes firm, bony enlargement on a joint, which leads to swelling, pain, and stiffness. It is also called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis and can result from overuse of joints or from sports injuries, obesity, or aging. It can strike early in life, especially in athletes or persons with significant trauma to a joint.
OA is most common in joints that bear weight such as the knees, hips, feet, and spine. The cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber in the joint, gradually breaks down. As it disappears the bones in the joint begin to rub together causing pain and the joint lining can become inflamed. It most often occurs in the fingers, neck, low back, and knees. This usually occurs in older age, with one in two people developing OA by age 65. Therapy often includes NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen. These have significant side effects such as stomach upset, heartburn, ulcers, and increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular death.
Osteoarthritis and Cannabis
NOTE FOR FIRST TIME READERS: Cannabinoids – such as THC, CBD – and terpenes are the main medically active components in cannabis (aka marijuana). For more information on these components and much more about the plant, see our section on the Science of Cannabis.
Evidence from recent research suggests that cannabis-based therapies are effective in the treatment of arthritis as well as in degenerative back and joint disorders. Since these are often extremely painful conditions, the well-documented pain-relief properties of cannabis suggest it may be a useful part of treatment, both on its own and as an adjunct therapy that enhances the efficacy of opiates.
THC is the most prominent cannabinoid and has been found to work as an anti-inflammatory as well as a pain reliever. Another prominent compound found in cannabis, called cannabidiol (CBD), is also a potent anti-inflammatory. Research in humans has shown that many patients are able to reduce their usage of NSAIDS when using cannabis.
In addition, cannabis helps to loosen stiff backs and joints due to its muscle-relaxant properties. Topical applications of cannabis provide a safe, potent method of delivery with few side effects. It can be applied to the affected area without any of psychoactive qualities. Some patients take a daily dose one to three times per day as their ongoing anti-inflammatory treatment. In addition, patients often find when they use medical marijuana they have more freedom of movement, ability to stretch and get a better workout.
Malfait AM, et al. The non-psychoactive cannabis constituent cannabidiol is an oral anti-arthritic therapeutic in murine collagen-induces arthritis. Journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2000, 97: 9561-9566.
Sumariwalla PF, et al. A novel synthetic non-psychoactive cannabinoid (HU-320) with anti-inflammatory properties in murine collagen-induced arthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatism. 2004, 50: 985-998.
Croxford JL, et al. Cannabinoids and the immune system: potential for the treatment of inflammatory diseases? Journal of Neuroimmunology. 2005, 166: 3-18.
Burston JJ, et al. Cannabinoid CB2 receptors regulate central sensitization and pain responses associated with osteoarthritis of the knee joint. PLoS One. 2013, 8(11): e80440.