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How cannabis can help manage Rheumatoid Arthritis

Originally posted on 4th December 2017, Updated on 24th January 2019

Medical marijuana has been in the mainstream media a lot lately, mostly due to the fact that it’s been proven to be helpful for so many conditions and illnesses. But when it comes to treating things such as rheumatoid arthritis, many still consider the use of cannabis to be new age medicine. In fact, that’s just not true. As far back as 2,000 B.C., - that’s four thousand years ago – people in China and other parts of the world were already widely using cannabis to treat many different conditions.And in fact, the Chinese were saying that cannabis was one form of treatment that could “undo rheumatism”. So what are the effects of medical marijuana on rheumatoid arthritis?

What is rheumatoid arthritis?rheumatoid-arthritis

While there are many types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is one of the worst. This type is chronic arthritis that causes inflammation of the joints on both sides of the body. Those who suffer from it will not only see swelling in their joints, particularly in their fingers, wrists, knees or ankles, they will also feel joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue.

Rheumatoid arthritis most affects the fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS). This is a type of cell that continually causes certain bodily mechanisms to become inflamed. This not only inflammation of the joints but can also cause cartilage damage as well as joint damage; and is one of the reasons why those suffering from it often end up with their hands and feet deformed as a result of the rheumatoid arthritis.

steroidsIt used to be, and in many areas still is, that the only way to treat rheumatoid arthritis is with NSAIDS, or pharmaceuticals such as ibuprofen that will reduce the swelling and also relieve pain. In addition to these drugs, steroids are also often prescribed to slow joint damage and also reduce inflammation.

Just like any medication, these drugs can often come with a number of unpleasant side effects, and they are not always effective at relieving the pain and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. For those that just can’t get the relief they need with over-the-counter medication, medical marijuana may just be the answer.

How does marijuana help rheumatoid arthritis?

One of the reasons cannabis has been found to be so effective at treating rheumatoid arthritis is because it can activate the CB2 receptors found throughout the body. In fact, a team of scientists in China – the same place that said medical marijuana can ‘undo rheumatism’ – stated that cannabis works in two ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The first is that it can engage those CB2 receptors even more so, which can help decrease the symptoms in conditions that cause inflammation such as arthritis.

But the other reason it’s so effective is because in conjunction with that, it can also reduce the amount of activity in the FLS cells, the cells responsible for much of the pain and damage. THC is also known to be a powerful painkiller, showing that the two most commonly known components of cannabis work together to effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis.

A study published in the scientific journal, Rheumatology, also specifically outlined the many benefits THC and other cannabinoids held for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.


And as a team of researchers found in 2004, the cannabidiol found in medical marijuana, more often referred to as CBD, can reduce the amount of inflammation in a person’s body. This conclusion was drawn when those researchers used it on a rat’s paw affected with inflammation and saw a great reduction in the presence of the disease in the rat’s paw. It was also shown in this study that CBD can also greatly help to reduce the amount of damage done to the joints.

But rats and humans are very different which is why researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem conducted their own study to test the effects of medical marijuana on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This study showed that cannabis could improve mobility, as well as reduce stiffness and inflammation, particularly in the morning hours when these two symptoms seem to be at their worst. And unlike the pharmaceuticals that are often prescribed, medical marijuana does not affect the gastrointestinal tract in a negative way.

But there are also some risks when treating certain conditions with medical marijuana, and that is also the case when using it for rheumatoid arthritis. The first is that it can cause addiction; although some would argue that the rheumatoid arthritis sufferers they know are already addicted to painkillers. The other concern is that medical marijuana can also increase depression and heart disease – serious health conditions that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are already at a higher risk for.

And while medical marijuana has become known to many as a miracle cure for many ailments, it too can interfere with other medications and can either negate the effects or cause unpleasant side effects. Because of this, any time a person is taking a medication such as an immune suppressant, they need to speak with their doctor before using cannabis to treat their rheumatoid arthritis.

Best Cannabis Uses for Rheumatoid Arthritis

cannabis-cbd-balmWhile THC and CBD will both be effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, it’s really the CBD that’s the superhero here. Because of this, when medical marijuana is prescribed, it will most likely be something with a high CBD content such as CBD oil. CBD oil will provide the relief needed from swelling and pain, but without some of the side effects cannabis can bring. It also won’t give the psychedelic high that’s often associated with cannabis, which is great news for those that want the relief but may not want to stay on their couch all day, either.

Topical solutions are also particularly effective for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers because these can be applied directly at the site of pain. These also typically do not bring any of the real high or stone that cannabis is known for, but just pure pain relief right at the site of the pain. Typically 40 – 50 milligrams of CBD can be used throughout the day, and this can be broken up through the day in order to provide all-day relief. For those that are not used to taking CBD, they should start a little slower and then gradually build up to that dosage to ensure they won’t suffer any negative side effects.

Of course, the more traditional methods of consuming cannabis will also work well for rheumatoid arthritis. But those that are using these methods should be aware that the effects will be felt throughout their entire body, and they won’t have the ability to pinpoint the area of pain. It’s also suggested that when taking edibles or smoking medical marijuana, a strain high in CBD is used to really get the full effects and allow the cannabis to live up to its full potential.

Medical marijuana is very effective at treating different conditions and ailments, and rheumatoid arthritis is no different. With this condition however, it’s important to understand that the strain that’s chosen is very important, and that some applications will be more effective at others. And as with treating any kind of ailment, patients should always speak with their doctor before self-medicating.

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