Using Cannabis for Arthritis Pain
October 29, 2021
by Ma Raim
As time goes on and research progresses, more and more people are using cannabis for arthritis pain. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults in Canada seek medical attention; approximately 27% of seniors (60+) experience chronic pain. Among those living in long-term care facilities, that increases to 86%. In addition, about 15-20% of Canadians have received a diagnosis of arthritis.
Ongoing use of prescription pain medication has several side effects, so it makes sense that pain is one of the most common reasons for using cannabis. Following the legalization of cannabis in Canada, the number of older adults seeking cannabis as an alternative treatment method has been steadily increasing. Here we will explore the use of cannabis for managing arthritis pain.
Description of Arthritis
Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of the joints. The main symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, which tend to worsen with age. Arthritis can also have a significant impact on a person's mobility which directly impacts their quality of life. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, which results from ongoing damage to the cartilage at the joints. Cartilage is the slick coating on the ends of bones at the joint that cushion the joints and decrease friction in joint motion. The damage can occur slowly over time or be accelerated as a result of an injury or infection.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, damage to the joints occurs from the immune system attacking it, starting with the lining of the joints.
Traditional Treatment for Arthritis
Treatments will vary depending on the type of arthritis, though typical pharmaceutical treatments include NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and opioids. The main goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms to increase the quality of life. So, people are looking for the most effective treatment that has the most negligible side effects. In most cases, cannabis serves as a potent alternative to traditional treatments.
In addition to medications to manage pain or modulate the immune system, doctors recommend regular movement through exercise or physio to ease pain and stress. Despite this, almost a quarter of those diagnosed with arthritis have said they are physically inactive.
Cannabis for Treating Arthritis - Does it Work?
There is no evidence that cannabis can cure arthritis. So, as with traditional treatments, we are looking at how effective it is at managing arthritis symptoms and increasing patients' overall quality of life. Which would mean determining whether or not cannabis can reduce pain as well as inflammation and swelling.
What Does the Research Say?
Cannabis is well established for managing chronic pain. One of the many pathways through which cannabis helps to manage pain is by reducing inflammation. Cannabis also helps to minimize hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain) and manage stiffness. And studies have also found cannabis can reduce pain by affecting how pain receptors respond to stimuli (note this study specifically addressed pain associated with arthritis).
Related: Cannabis and Chronic Pain
At this time, most of the clinical research relating to cannabis and arthritis is on animals, though these do provide evidence that CBD is a safe treatment for joint pain and that topical application of cannabis can relieve pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
While anecdotal evidence supports the use of cannabis for arthritis, we hope to see more clinical research that helps us understand the mechanisms involved in managing pain and inflammation, particularly as it directly relates to humans.
The Arthritis Society does note that cannabis "offers a potent alternative to pharmaceuticals such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen and opioids," but notes that there are no formal guidelines regarding cannabis use for arthritis and would like to see more research. They are funding this research and leading a coalition of voices from across Canada to call for more investment in medical cannabis research.
Cannabis and Opioids - Cannabis as an Alternative
Cannabis can be an alternative to opioids for managing pain. In Canada, we have been experiencing an overdose crisis as a result of opioids for the last several years, so alternative pain-relief treatments are sorely needed.
Preliminary research also suggests that cannabis could help manage opioid addictions. The research on the effects of cannabis and opioid withdrawal is promising. Research suggests that the CB1 receptors play a critical role in opioid reward pathways. CBD has been shown to reduce the rewards associated with the use of other drugs and reduce cravings.
How to Use Cannabis for Arthritis
There are numerous ways of consuming cannabis, and there is currently no definitive research that determines which are most effective. In reality, they each may be beneficial and provide relief in different situations.
Ingested cannabis takes longer to take effect due to being absorbed through the stomach, though the impacts last longer. Because of this fact, many people choose ingestion in the morning and before bed for lasting effects throughout the day and to keep pain at bay overnight to sleep better. Some people enjoy traditional cannabis edibles, such as gummies and chocolate. In contrast, others prefer CBD only – particularly in the morning. Some great options for CBD-only cannabis treatments are CBD capsules and CBD tincture (of course, there are CBD-only gummies as well).
Another excellent method of treatment for arthritis is cannabis topicals. Topicals are applied directly to the skin at the site of pain. One of our favourite topicals is Waves CBD Tiger balm which is great for pain. Though it only contains CBD, looking for something that combines the power of CBD and THC? Try Yoshikal topical cream.
It may take some experimenting to find what routine works best for you. Ideally, it would help to aim for a cannabis routine that provides pain relief with the fewest side effects. To achieve this, we recommend starting at a low dose and increasing slowly over time. With edibles, make sure you are leaving enough time to feel the effects before increasing your dose.
Cannabis and Exercise
Staying mobile and moderating activity helps reduce pain and manage the stress levels of those diagnosed with arthritis. Though, as noted previously, many remain inactive. This inactivity is likely the result of pain making exercise challenging and the increasing age of arthritis patients.
Cannabis can help with exercise by reducing anxiety related to exercise and reducing pain to make exercising easier and help your body recover.
Since THC impacts your brain, we recommend sticking to CBD-only products for pre-exercise to keep you safe. Also, don't forget to stay hydrated.
Ready to add cannabis to your health and wellness routine? Check out our online dispensary for all the cannabis products you’ll need.
Already using cannabis to manage pain? Let us know what works best for you in the comments.
Further reading on cannabis and health: