Rheumatoid Arthritis is a debilitating auto-immune disorder characterized by the joint damage is causes. While it’s got Arthritis in the name, it’s the symptom, the output of the disease that causes the arthritis. Treating it is challenging because it’s an autoimmune disease, and treating the underlying disease often makes the symptoms worse.

That’s where we raise the question of How can Can Cannabis help Rheumatoid Arthritis — by easing some of the symptoms, potentially.

Let’s start by reviewing what Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a disease of the immune system, where the body basically turns on itself and attacks the tissues. Normally the immune system works to attack invaders, like viruses or diseases, but when the immune system is damaged, it turns on the body.

In the case of RA the immune system attacks the joints, more precisely, the tissue around the joints, creating arthritis — damage, swelling, and pain.

What are the Symptoms of RA

In a nutshell, they are the same for arthritis (pain, swelling, stiffness in the joints), and because it often has a slow onset, they’re often mistaken for osteoarthritis, at least until the standard treatments for that don’t work.

But remember rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, so the syptoms belie the underlying disease. The symptoms that accompany the ones relating to joint pain are the concerningones, the ones that signal it’s not “regular” arthritis: tiredness, temperatures, appetite and weight loss.

It’s not an easy disease to initially identify because the symptoms overlap so many other common conditions. But once considered, it can be diagnosed and confirmed through a series of tests, including scans and blood work.

What Causes RA

As with many systemic conditions, we don’t have a full understanding of what causes RA. It is often believed to be hereditary (there’s a juvenile rheumatoid arthritis designation, jRA), but familial history can be an uncertain predictor due to the confusion with the symptoms of arthritis. Similarly there’s some evidence that it can be hormone related, or lifestyle related, but again, with the overlapping symptoms of multiple diseases and types of arthritis, it’s difficult to tell.

It has been noted that the APPEARANCE of RA, leading to a diagnosis, often occurs after some type of stimuli, be it an accident, medical procedure or surgery, or possibly other trauma. It is believed that RA can exist in the body, and does, and is then activated in the body to begin it’s reign of destruction and pain.

Treatment and Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis

It’s not pretty. By the time a diagnosis of RA is given, there’s likely a decent amount of disease progression, mainly because it’s a difficult disease to identify due to the overlapping symptoms and general assumptions of overuse of joints, “normal” arthritic progression, etc. So the first inclination is to stop the disease progression as much as possible. And that’s done often through a combination of treatments, noted below, each of which have their side effects.

The general classes of meds depends on factors such as other conditions, severity and length of disease etc.

  1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Advil and Aleve are amongst this class. The side effects range from stomach ulcers which can lead to severe bleeding and in rare cases liver, kidney failure.
  2. Steroids – also known as corticosteroids (e.g. prednisone) also can reduce inflammation and pain and slow joint damage. Unfortunately as many people – especially patients on long-term steroids know the side effects are common and difficult and in addition to weight gain, hair loss and diabetes once on steroids it is difficult to taper off in many patients.
  3. DMARDs – From methotrexate to the now infamous hydroxychloroquine this class of drugs in rheumatoid arthritis most importantly can slow the progression of RA and potentially save from permanent damage joints and systems and organs. Different side-effects come from the different specific drugs but organ damage, bone marrow and immune suppression leading to severe infections can occur.
  4. Biologic agents like Humira, Remicade and Rituxan (also a class of DMARDs and often used in combination with non-biologics) act as modifiers of the biologic immune response. As they target the processes triggering the inflammatory process – (which is the cause of the destructivity of the joints and tissues) their side-effects can significantly increase the risk of infection due to a weakened immune system which they are modulating.
    While these continue to improve in efficacy and safety, the risks and costs remain. These are EXPENSIVE products, and have significant psychological side effects, along with the physical ones.

arthritis

Can Cannabis help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

As an autoimmune disorder, RA is aggravated not only by infections and other viruses, but also by environmental stressors and increased anxiety. The symptoms of the disease, exhaustion, pain, loss of appetite, compound the disease by further weakening the immune system and the body. Being in constant pain and discomfort is demoralizing and stressful, further exacerbating the condition.

It’s all of these symptoms that Medical marijuana has been shown to help with in many anecdotal and even scientific studies. Medical marijuana is an all-natural, comparatively affordable choice to consider (under the advice of your physicians) vs standard medicines utilized for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

However the question at hand is whether cannabis is actually helpful or not in helping give relief and help treat the joint inflammation and pain associated with RA.

Another factor people often consider when considering cannabis for arthritis relief is the side effects of the standard medicines in arthritis treatments.

Rheumatoid arthritis in particular has some particularly strong medicines. There being no cure for rheumatoid arthritis treatment mainly involves drugs known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Cannabis safety and side-effects

What is well known about cannabis are the side-effects that we can say include addiction, dizziness, sleepiness, euphoria, the munchies etc. What is also increasingly well known is that nobody is considered to have died from cannabis consumption or overdose. In fact it is considered a very safe natural product and in 2020 the United Nations removed cannabis from the Schedule (after 59 years)  opening the door to recognizing and further investigating the medical potential of the marijuana.

Increasingly, many arthritis sufferers affected with joint inflammation have opted to try cannabis to soothe their symptoms with the . These patients have experienced everything from no improvement all the way to having had superb results, consisting of much less pain, minimized use of various other medicines and also improved motion.

What does the Science Say?

A review of the scientific evidence for cannabis use in RA “Joints for Joints – cannabinoids in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,” concludes – albeit cautiously that derivatives of the cannabis plant can serve as suitable treatment for RA.

But the truth is that many patients are in general not waiting for scientific consensus but seeing and hearing the results from other RA sufferers that they know through support groups, online forums and their own research. This is nothing new in that we know that cannabis has been used for pain and more specifically joint pain for thousands of years.

Other research has shown medical marijuana can be an effective choice joint inflammation treatment. For example, as early as 2005 an article published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology, scientists J. Ludovic and Takashi Yamamura discussed cannabinoids could be a factor to consider for people for the therapy of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

Ethan Russo, MD, elderly clinical advisor at the Cannabinoid Research Institute, discussed this in in his 2005 “Arthritis and Medical Marijuana” pamphlet:

” Science has currently revealed that the THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] element of cannabis is an effective pain-killing (analgesic) representative, and CBD (cannabidiol) has specifically immunomodulatory advantages as a villain of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which supports advantages in the rheumatoid arthritis therapy.”

A 2009 study in the Journal of Opioid Management discovered 80 percent of medical pot individuals in an American discomfort clinic utilized marijuana to treat muscle mass and joint pain while 65 percent of medical pot users in Canada reported they make use of clinical cannabis to deal with severe joint inflammation, according to Everyday Health.

To date, several states have actually accepted different types of arthritis as a qualifying condition for clinical cannabis.

Can Weed Ease the Symptoms and Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

So that’s some of the science and research behind it.

So can weed help rheumatoid arthritis symptoms? The short answer is, maybe/probably and again we advise that you speak with your physician.

Those suffering from chronic and acute pain (and their caretakers) are effectively faced with the choice of balancing suffering from the effects and progression and ongoing damage of RA or of taking over the counter or prescription medications.

Cannabis may be a potential way of getting pain and joint relief (CBD and some other cannabinoids also have anti-inflammatory properties). As CBD and marijuana are much more available today patients also not only have more easy access to a wider choice of products such as tinctures, balms, creams and tablets/edibles – it’s never been easier to find quality and safe products which have been lab tested.

So yes, there’s science to back it up, but there’s also experience and anecdotal evidence that we can point to, as well.  We have increasing evidence pointing to the fact that cannabis may help reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, muscle spasms, and more. It may also help manage the anxiety and depression that inevitably takes hold when dealing with chronic pain and the ravages that can occur from RA or the side-effects of the medications needed.

So if are considering the use of marijuana or CBD to help ease your symptoms talk to your doctor, your dispensary experts, and even your naturopath pharmacist to find the right solution for you, to meet your needs.

Summary

Long known to help with pain, both chronic and acute, medical marijuana and CBD have now been used in studies and have resulted in proof that it may help in the therapeutic treatment and management of the joint inflammation and arthritis of Rheumatoid Arthritis .Experts believe particular strains of cannabis can particularly assist those who have arthritis. Strains of medical cannabis for arthritis include the strain Pennywise, a form of indica that has mild psychedelic effects.

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