Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Characterized by painful swelling and discomfort in the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that results from the body mistakenly attacking its own tissues. This disease often creates high levels of discomfort for patients, who experience chronic inflammation and pain that seems to arise without an immediate cause.
Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured entirely. However, many treatment plans produce promising effects for patients — especially products with high contents of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the more than 85 cannabinoids found in marijuana, and other cannabis medicine.
For some patients with rheumatoid arthritis, medical marijuana offers a way to find relief from unwanted symptoms. Inflammation in the joints mainly characterizes rheumatoid arthritis, which can result in severe pain and discomfort. Because cannabinoid therapy is known to offer anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties, medical marijuana provides a viable pharmaceutical option for arthritis patients.
In a 2006 study published in the Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society for Rheumatology, a team of acclaimed researchers strove to assess the effectiveness of cannabis medicine on managing pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
In a controlled study, 58 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were examined to see the effects of Sativex — a marijuana product — on stiffness, pain and sleep quality. A total of 31 patients received the Sativex treatment, while 27 were assigned a placebo medication. The cannabis-based medicine group showed significantly less pain during movement and rest and an enhanced quality of sleep. Moreover, patients taking cannabis showed no adverse side effects.
This study concludes that cannabis-based medication offers relief from rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Since patients showed significant improvements in pain management, medical marijuana may be a viable treatment option for those experiencing chronic or debilitating aches and discomfort.
Researchers have conducted many research studies that examine how CBD and other cannabis products can improve pain management. In a 2011 study published in Neuroscience Letters, N. Schuelert et al. examined how cannabinoid receptors in our bodies helped provide relief from inflammatory pain.
In this study, Wister rats with acute joint inflammation were injected with cannabidiol and examined afterward for any immediate or delayed effect. The researchers found that the CBD greatly aided in reducing inflammatory pain responses in the animals. Pain receptors within the rats’ endocannabinoid systems responded to stimuli more desirably, reducing feelings of pain caused by inflammation or external stimuli.
Cannabinoids within CBD and other cannabis products successfully stimulated CB1 and CB2 receptors to engage in normalized responses. Although this study did not examine the effects on human patients, the results demonstrate that further research into marijuana’s effects on pain perception in rheumatoid arthritis patients is necessary.
In a series of 2016 case studies conducted by Gordon D. Ko et al., the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana were examined in treating pain for arthritis and other chronic pain conditions. Although they did not touch on rheumatoid arthritis specifically, the research team geared one study toward a patient experiencing fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
When the patient first entered the clinic, he was asked to rate his pain before initiating his treatment plan. He estimated his pain score as 8/10. After being prescribed 1.5 g of cannabis per day with a 12% THC level, the patient rated his pain level as 3/10 after a 60-day trial period.
Although this study focuses on one sole patient, his successful reduction in pain constitutes the need for further large-scale research studies examining the effects of CBD on chronic pain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The patient struggled with elevated levels of pain before cannabis treatment, and he was able to find substantial relief through a marijuana prescription.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is a common condition that produces debilitating effects, its crucial to find a treatment plan that provides effective relief. If you want to learn more about how you can use marijuana to treat the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, consider contacting a marijuana doctor in your state for further evaluation.