As our nation’s baby boomers age, they’re facing a multitude of health-related ailments and costs. One of the most prominent concerns is the prevalence of chronic arthritis, an ailment that affects 52.5 million adults today, and that number is expected to increase to 67 million by 2030. There’s no cure for arthritis, and limited treatment options exist for the painful and limiting disease.
One alternative that’s gaining popularity among the aging population is the use of cannabis to get full-bodied pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. Although arthritis is considered a qualifying condition in at least two states, there’s a remarkable lack of data and research behind the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment alternative for arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Arthritis is an uncomfortable and often unavoidable disease that often results in severe symptoms:
- Injuries that don’t heal properly
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and peripheral neuropathies (tingling or numbness in extremities)
- Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the forefoot)
- Persistent joint pain
- Locked joints
- Morning stiffness
A study published in the journal Rheumatology from Dr. Sheng-Ming Dai of China’s Second Military Medical University found that CB2 receptors are found in unusually high levels in the joint tissue of arthritis patients. The use of cannabis is shown to fight inflammation in the joints by activating the pathways of CB2 receptors.
Canadian researcher Dr. Jason McDougall, a professor of pharmacology and anesthesia at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has undertaken a new study to find out if medical marijuana can help repair arthritic joints and relieve pain. The study is supported by the Arthritis Society and is awarding a grant for a comprehensive, three-year study to investigate if cannabis is not just dampening the pain in the brain, but also working to fight inflammation and repair the joint itself.
When asked to describe the nerves of an arthritis sufferer, McDougall told CBC Radio’s Information Morning the following information:
“[The nerves are like] wires that have been stripped of their coating. They’re all bare, they’re all raw and responsible for feeling a lot of pain. What we hypothesize is that by locally administering these cannabis-like molecules to those nerves, we’d actually be able to repair them and reduce the pain of arthritis.”
McDougall’s research is focused on non-intoxicating cannabinoids, but so far, his findings has shown that cannabis molecules can attach themselves to nerve receptors and control the firing of pain signals in the joint. Indeed, it’s been proven in certain anecdotal circumstances, such as the case of Katie Marsh of Madawaska, Maine. A sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis, she was on a prescription of prednisone and antibiotics and was encouraged by her doctors to try disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS), but the side effects were severe enough that she sought a natural way to ease her pain and swollen joints.
After seeking the advice of a physician that specializes in dietary cannabis, Marsh began juicing raw cannabis, blending it into a smoothie and consuming the whole raw plant. She began to see results almost immediately — within days, Marsh was off the prednisone and even pain killers. After 11 months of regular cannabis juicing, her condition is in remission.
Now that Health Canada has approved the study, titled the CAPRI trial (Cannabinoid Profile Investigation of Vaporized Cannabis in Patients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee), researchers in Halifax and Montreal are seeking volunteers over the age of 50 who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee to participate in the year study, which will be a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study that involves visits to the physician and exposure to six different types of cannabis through a vaporizer, all with varying levels of THC and CBD.
Two Canadian licensed producers of medical marijuana, Aphria, Inc. and the Peace Naturals Project, contributed $100,000 each to the Arthritis Society to fund the grant, and the research project has been approved by Health Canada. Researchers hope to start the study by September, and preliminary results will be collected by the end of 2016.