Cannabis for Osteoarthritis, What We Know Is Working Today!
Osteoarthritis is a condition characterized by the breaking down of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones. It can affect any joint though more commonly it occurs in the hips, hands, spine, and the knees.
It’s the most common type of arthritis, with millions of people around the world suffering from it. The symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain and stiffness in the affected area, tenderness, a grating sensation, loss of flexibility, swelling, and bone spurs. There are some risk factors that can increase the chances of a person getting osteoarthritis, which include joint overuse through repetitive stress on a joint, gender, obesity, age, race, and genetics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are around 32.5 million people in the United States alone suffering from osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this disease, so doctors merely recommend various forms of management therapies for patients which can include a variety of things ranging from medications (prescription drugs and over-the-counter painkillers), physical therapy, weight loss, surgery, and exercise depending on the severity.
However, using opioid painkillers is a common occurrence among those who struggle with the chronic and severe pain brought on by osteoarthritis. Using opioid painkillers is extremely addicting and can be dangerous, so reducing dependence and getting patients off it is important, though it would be critical to find another effective yet safe painkiller.
How Cannabis Helps
Fortunately, many people suffering from osteoarthritis are seeing relief from using cannabis.
During the recent annual meeting for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, medical professionals discussed the benefits of medical cannabis on osteoarthritis and chronic pain patients. Two studies specifically were discussed, and Ari Greis, DO, of the Rothman Orthopedic Institute at the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia disclosed to MedPage Today that they discovered that “cannabinoids are a viable alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain.”
“We need to make a shift in the way we approach chronic pain and really limit the use of opioids to people with acute pain and post-surgical pain,” he said. He went on to explain that cannabis does the job of acting as an alternative when used in the long term since it’s less addictive and has less side effects. And he also went on to say that cannabis won’t kill patients, unlike opioids.
They discussed the results of the osteoarthritis study which involved 40 patients, 18 of whom suffered from primary knee pain while 12 suffered from shoulder pain. They noted that the pain scores of these patients dropped after 6 months of cannabis use. They explained that 2/3 of patients medicated with cannabis by sublingual tinctures and a third consumed topicals, while 21% consumed vaped oil and 9% used vaporized flower.
“A lot of patients got symptom relief without intoxication or found that the mild intoxication either didn’t interfere with their activities of daily living or was pleasurable to some degree,” said Greis.
Another study from 2020 reports that more people are using cannabis for treating their arthritis pains, and sometimes without even consulting their doctor. Specifically, Canadian researchers found that 1 in 5 patients who consult with an orthopedic surgeon for chronic musculoskeletal pain use a cannabis product.
“We found 20% had reported past or current use of cannabis with the specific intention to manage pain,” explains Dr. Timothy Leroux, study author and an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toronto. “Not just with recreational users, but patients who said, ‘I’m using cannabis because I want to improve pain with this condition,’”
Leroux also said that arthritis patients are interested in using cannabis, though they haven’t used it yet. “A lot of patients feel they have a lack of knowledge and are staying on the sidelines while we gather more science,” he adds. When a survey was conducted among 600 patients in a Toronto orthopedic clinic, those who used cannabis had positive results to share; 9 out of 10 of them said that cannabis worked in pain management while 4 in 10 reported that it helped reduce their dependency on pain medications. Additionally, almost 6 in 10 said that cannabis was more effective compared to other medications.
“This is encouraging in the face of the ongoing opioid epidemic, as we look to find safe alternatives to opioids for pain control,” added Dr. Yili Huang, the Northwell Phelps Hospital Pain Management Center’s director. “Cannabis may help decrease, or in some cases completely replace, the amount of opioid medication necessary to control pain,” explains Huang, who was not part of the study.
How Can Patients Benefit From Cannabis As Treatment For Osteoarthritis?
With too many fatalities and addictions occurring as a result of the opioid epidemic, osteoarthritis patients can benefit more with cannabis use. Cannabis strains for arthritis include Cannatonic and Black Lime Reserve.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is also a great alternative as it has no psychoactive effects. There are so many ways you can use cannabis products for treating osteoarthritis pain, inflammation, and swelling. Topicals are among the most effective ways to medicate for those with osteoarthritis because it provides localized pain relief – quickly. Since it doesn’t enter the blood stream, it will only impact the location where it has been applied. You can choose from creams, ointments, and oils that can be applied directly.
In addition, for those who experience long bouts of pain, you can benefit from edibles. While they can take a longer time to provide pain relief, edibles will also last much longer, sometimes ranging from 6 hours or even more. Edibles such as gummies, candies, and other infused food items pass through the digestive system so they do enter the blood stream.
However, the American Arthritis Foundation has recommended the use of CBD for this condition via tincture, topical, oral application, or capsule form.
Have you tried using cannabis for osteoarthritis relief? What form works best for you and why?
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