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Can Joint Inflammation Be Tamed By Cannabis?

Philip Ghezelbash
woman with joint inflammation holds her painful leg

The joint inflammation of arthritis can be an extremely painful and debilitating condition, but here’s how cannabis may help.

Arthritis is an inflammatory disease that creates joint inflammation, and can result in pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion. There are many different types of arthritis, but the two common forms are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by inflammation, fatigue, and lack of appetite. It is an autoimmune disorder and is caused by the immune system attacking joint tissues. Synovium is the soft tissue in joints that produces fluid necessary for maintaining lubrication and proper functioning of the joint. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body attacks this synovium tissue, causing the joint to degrade and resulting in pain-inflicting damage to both bone and cartilage. Rheumatoid arthritis is thought, in part, to be determined by genetics and having certain alleles may put one at higher risk for developing this inflammatory disease.

Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is the result of wear and tear causing a breakdown in the cartilage tissue that protects the joint. This wearing down of tissue causes pain and inflammation. Injury, joint stress, and infection can all cause this cartilage breakdown, although there may be a slightly higher risk of osteoarthritis if it is present in your family.

Current Treatments for Arthritis

Unfortunately, current treatments do not offer a cure for arthritis and instead, treatment mainly focuses on the management of symptoms, such as pain and inflammation. Many of these treatments are not ideal, many pain relievers are extremely addictive and put patients at high risk for abuse, and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as salicylates, can also cause blood-thinning. Immunosuppressants and even surgery can even be used to help reduce inflammation and pain. In extreme cases, patients might even receive full joint replacement surgery.

shoulder pain in senior

Cannabis as a Treatment for Joint Inflammation

Cannabis has gained traction as an arthritis treatment thanks to its potential anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Cannabis is made up of many active compounds that act on the body to induce this range of effects.

THC May Manage Both Pain and Inflammation

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the main active cannabinoids in cannabis and has shown a lot of potential as an arthritis treatment. THC affects the body by binding to, and activating, cannabinoid receptors such as the G-protein coupled receptors CB1 and CB2.

Reducing inflammation is key to managing the pain, discomfort, and reduced range of motion of arthritis and it seems that THC may be able to help. One animal study showed that the activation of the CB1 receptor, which THC can activate, resulted in an increase of cytokine IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine.

Pain is another symptom common to arthritis patients that THC may be able to help with. One study showed that the THC acts as a agonist for cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Many report a pain-relieving effect that is comparable to morphine. Activation of the CB1 receptor, in particular, is through to reduce pain through hyperpolarization of the presynaptic terminal.

CBD Targets Receptors That Suppress Inflammation

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid that has also demonstrated potential as an arthritis treatment. It induces its effects by activating non-cannabinoid receptors and modulating other receptor pathways.

CBD may be able to reduce the inflammation caused by arthritis thanks to its activation of specific glycine receptors, according to one study. The study found that CBD managed to enhance the expression of ? GlyR, a glycine receptor that mediates glycinergic cannabinoid-induced suppression of inflammation.

CBD’s action on serotonin receptors may also provide a pain-relieving effect key for the treatment of arthritis-related joint pain. One study demonstrated that CBD is able to activate the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A, leading to a cellular cascade and inhibitory response that may result in the reduction of pain perception.

Terpenes May Also Reduce Inflammation and Treat Pain

Terpenes are a group of active organic compounds that are found in cannabis and many other plants. Often known for their ability to create plant-specific smells, terpenes are now gaining attention for therapeutic properties. Over 100 terpenes have been found in cannabis and some may even be able to reduce inflammation.

Myrcene

Myrcene is commonly found in the essential oils of hops and wild thyme. Myrcene was shown in one study to create an anti-inflammatory effect in human bone cells, and was even able to slow the progression of cartilage degeneration. This indicates that myrcene may potentially be able to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.

This anti-inflammatory effect is thought to occur thanks to myrcene blocking the metabolic pathway of prostaglandins, which are chemical mediators of inflammation.

Pinene

Also found in pine trees, pinene is a terpene found in cannabis that is thought to reduce inflammation by working with THC. It has even shown to be a powerful bronchodilator.

Humulene

Humulene is another terpene found in cannabis and has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties comparable to corticosteroids thanks to its ability to reduce interleukins, prostaglandins, and tumor necrosis factor levels.

knee pain caused by joint inflammation

How To Use Cannabis To Treat Joint Inflammation

There are a range of ways in which to use cannabis as an arthritic treatment, but these are two of the easiest in terms of getting pain relief.

Edibles

When ingesting either cannabis, consumers often report delayed and extended effects. This is ideal for those wanting to manage widespread pain or inflammation over a longer period of time as the effects are felt for longer and affect the whole body.

Salve

Salves, however, may be more ideal for those wanting targeted treatment and/or are intimidated by the concept of ingesting cannabis products. Cannabinoids are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in fats, and so oils are needed to help to aid their delivery across the skin barrier. Olive oil, argan oil, and emu oil have all been proposed as ideal carriers for topical cannabinoids thanks to their phospholipid properties.

Research into how cannabis may treat arthritis is in its infancy, but it’s into human clinical trials and that is a very good sign.

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

1 Comment
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    Kerri Berichon

    Very interested in learning more about CBD.

    October 7, 2019 at 6:54 pm Reply

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