In the United States, different forms of arthritis afflict over 50 million people, collectively making it the largest cause of disability in the country. The most common types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
While the causes of these types of arthritis are different, they cause pain in similar ways, by attacking the joints and causing inflammation. With medical cannabis now being regularly used to treat pain related and to a wide variety of conditions, its possible effectiveness in treating arthritis-related pain is likewise being closely examined.
Animal testing suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) oil shows potential in treating the type of pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).
The studies include:
A 2011 study by Schuelert and McDougall, where cannabis oil was found to reduce inflammation-related pain in rats.
A 2014 meta-analysis of different animal studies, which found cannabis oil shows promise for treating pain associated with osteoarthritis.
A 2016 study by D.C. Hammell, L.P. Zhang, F. Ma, S.M. Abshire, McIlwrath, A.L. Stinchcomb and K.N. Westlund on the use of topical CBD oils and their effect on arthritis pain.
A study published in 2017 specifically looking into the effects of cannabis oil on osteoarthritis by Philpott HT, OʼBrien M, McDougall JJ (who also participated in the 2011 study above) found that cannabis oil shows a lot of promise as a safe pain treatment.
However, these findings are still relatively new, and there is as of yet, not conclusive evidence that cannabis oil or other cannabis products are specifically beneficial to arthritis pain, even if cannabis has been shown to reduce pain in general.
Why cannabis oil?
A few cannabis-based treatments for arthritis have been around for over a decade. For instance, a 2006 study found that a product called Sativex relieved pain related to arthritis. However, the product contained both cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is the psychoactive chemical that produces the “high” cannabis is known for. While studies show it can be effective for pain relief, the high causes drawbacks that impair both safety and brain development, in the case of those who use it before their 20s. It can also impair judgment, greatly elevating risks when the patient drives or operates heavy machinery. There is also evidence that repeated THC use can result in psychological dependence.
As a result, most commercially-available cannabis oils used for medical applications contain very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Instead, the active ingredient in most oils is cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce the “high” associated with cannabis use.
CBD oil is already considered an effective treatment for mental health conditions related to arthritis, such as depression and anxiety. Chronic pain sufferers, including those with different forms of arthritis, are already using CBD oil and reporting a wide range of benefits.
A possible replacement for opioids
Opioids are widely used today for the treatment of severe cases of arthritis, particularly if first-line treatments and therapy fail to produce significant pain relief for patients. However, while highly-effective, many available opioids carry significant risks, and prescription opioid overdoses are not uncommon today.
Given that arthritis is the most type of disability in the United States, a switch to CBD for pain management for arthritis and other conditions can be a way to reduce the potential for prescription opioid abuse. As a matter of fact, in states where medical cannabis is legal, opioid prescriptions tend to drastically fall down.
If CBD is indeed finally found to be beneficial to arthritis sufferers, chances are opioid prescriptions will drop even further, given how common arthritis is in the United States.