Records regarding medical marijuana and arthritis (and issues that may well have been arthritis) date back thousands of years. A couple of examples are Egypt’s Eber Papyrus, dating from 1550 BC, which mentions cannabis for inflammation, and in the late 1700s, famous physician William O’Shaughnessy prescribed cannabis for “rheumatism”, an old-school word for arthritis.1 It’s no wonder marijuana for arthritis was, and continues to be, used by many arthritis sufferers, as its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties have been well-documented.
Types of Arthritis
The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although both types are painful and cause damage to the joints, they are not the same disease. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between joints breaks down, and it can happen in any joint. However, the most common joints affected are ones that have been previously injured or have been used the most, such as knees, hips, vertebrae and fingers. Joints can be stiff, swollen and painful, and can make cracking or grinding noises when moved.2
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The immune system sees the joints as enemy invaders and attacks the lining, causing inflammation. This inflammation in turn leads to painful swelling that can be red and warm to the touch.3 While attacks upon the smaller joints in the hands and feet are most common, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect larger joints, as well. It normally does not affect the back. Another hallmark of RA is that it can cause morning stiffness that lasts longer than that of OA; at least an hour or more.2
Medical Marijuana and Arthritis Research
In a study done on mice with rheumatoid arthritis, scientists found that CBD had a potent immunosuppressant effect, and protected the joints from severe damage. This led the researchers to conclude that CBD was an effective anti-arthritic therapy, calling it, “… an attractive candidate for the treatment of RA.” They also noted that the mice did not build up tolerance to the CBD, as has sometimes happened with other cannabinoids.4
In another study done using CBD, this time in rats with osteoarthritis, researchers found that joint pain and inflammation were reduced. When CBD was given prophylactically, it prevented joint pain and nerve damage later. As in the study with mice affected by RA, these researchers also concluded that CBD would be a safe and useful method of treating OA joint pain.5
In a human study done using Sativex, a synthetic form of THC, 31 RA patients were given Sativex and 27 were given a placebo. Researchers reported that the Sativex group experienced a significant analgesic affect, with considerable improvements in pain, both while moving and while at rest. Patients also experienced higher quality sleep, and overall, their disease activity was significantly reduced.6
Marijuana for Arthritis, Plus CBD
Anecdotal evidence of cannabis and arthritis, and its positive effects on both OA and RA patients, is rather substantial. Now, in addition to anecdotal evidence indicating that both cannabis and CBD are effective against these diseases, the scientific studies give reason for even more hope.
The effectiveness of CBD is good news for residents of states where whole-plant medical marijuana is not yet legal, as well as for those who don’t want the high that comes with cannabis.
If you do want to use medical marijuana for arthritis, try to find a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about cannabis, or is at least willing to learn and work with you. He or she can advise you about which strains and methods of delivery are best, as well as arrive at the right diagnosis. To learn about the medical marijuana laws in your state, start with our interactive map to learn the laws in your state.
- A Brief History Of Medical Cannabis: From Ancient Anesthesia To The Modern Dispensary
- WebMD. Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis: What’s the Difference?
- WebMD. Rheumatoid Arthritis Health Center
- Malfait AM, Gallily R, Sumariwalla PF, et al. The nonpsychoactive cannabis constituent cannabidiol is an oral anti-arthritic therapeutic in murine collagen-induced arthritis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000;97(17):9561–9566. doi:10.1073/pnas.160105897
- Philpott HT, OʼBrien M, McDougall JJ. Attenuation of early phase inflammation by cannabidiol prevents pain and nerve damage in rat osteoarthritis. Pain. 2017;158(12):2442–2451. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001052 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28885454/
- Rheumatology, Volume 45, Issue 1, January 2006, Pages 50–52, https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/kei183