Rheumatism (also called rheumatoid arthritis or just arthritis) describes a health condition that is characterized by chronic inflammation with stiff and painful joints, tissues and muscles. It is estimated that more than 50 million adults in the US suffer from the disease alone. The causes for rheumatism can be many: the symptoms can appear with advanced age or as a result of wear and tear on the body. Rheumatism is sometimes also the result of immune system deficiencies.

Unfortunately, there is no real cure for rheumatism. People who suffer from it are usually being treated to reduce the symptomatic pains and the underlying inflammation. With numerous therapeutic uses of cannabis gaining more traction, the question comes up whether the active compounds in cannabis can also help with rheumatism. We want to take a look at the latest research in regards to using CBD for rheumatism. But before we do that, we want to explain what rheumatism is.

WHAT IS RHEUMATISM?

Rheumatism (or arthritis, both are essentially the same) belongs to the large group of autoimmune diseases. Just as is the case with multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and many more conditions, it is a disorder of the body’s immune system. What happens is that the immune system, for some reason, becomes over-active and attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake. The result is a permanent inflammation in the body resulting in pains and other symptoms. If someone suffers from rheumatism, the aches and the stiffness of the joints can make even everyday tasks such as driving, preparing meals, or dressing difficult.

What is Rheumatism

RHEUMATISM AND CANNABIS

A lot has been written recently about the many potential therapeutic uses of the THC and CBD. It is known for quite some time that cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates important bodily functions. This way, cannabis can affect our immune system responses, can alter pain perception and can regulate our appetite, sleep, and mood — just to name some of its effects on our body.

The US Food and Drug Administration has just approved the first drug made with CBD from the cannabis plant for the treatment of epilepsy. What’s more, medicinal cannabis users all over the world are already using CBD products to find relief for pains and anxiety. Yet, when it comes to treating rheumatism with CBD, the studies on its effectiveness for this condition haven’t been as conclusive. This explains why some researchers are still wary about the use of CBD for rheumatism.

RESEARCH: CBD AND RHEUMATISM

A 2014 study conducted by medical doctor Mary-Ann Fitzcharles outright concluded that cannabis had been shown “inferior to all other analgesic classes other than opioids.”

She is also cautioning that there is“little scientific evidence for CBD’s effectiveness in reducing pain in rheumatic individuals”. On a positive note, she is acknowledging that cannabis does reduce pain in other health conditions that have a different underlying mechanism than rheumatoid arthritis.

It is noteworthy to point out that other studies that looked at CBD and its use for treating muscle and joint pains seem to contradict Fitzcharles’ findings: One study published in the European Journal of Pain in 2015 examined the topical use of Cannabidiol (CBD) to reduce inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. Despite only being conducted on animals, the research concludes that “topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviours and inflammation without evident side-effects.”

A previous study in the Journal of Opioid Management from 2009 finds that 80 percent of medicinal marijuana patients use cannabis to treat myofascial pain. With rheumatoid arthritis, this type of pain is also a chronic pain disorder that affects muscles and joints.

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WHY CBD NEEDS TO BE INVESTIGATED IN GREATER DETAIL

Today, doctors are not shying away from prescribing opioids, steroid injections and similar treatments to sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. While some of these drugs may provide a certain level of relief for patients, so do they come with their own, sometimes significant drawbacks. The chronic use of strong medications such as opioids poses significant health risks including addiction and overdose. Many of these pharmaceuticals also have severe side effects, which can include liver, kidney and bone damage, as well as other unwanted effects such as weight gain or stomach irritation.

Furthermore, as patients are treated with these drugs, their bodies will adapt to them over time so that they will require higher doses for their pain relief. This will exacerbate the side effects even more.

What makes CBD an attractive alternative is that it can potentially provide relief without any of these negative effects. To date, there is no indication that CBD, even when taken in higher doses, has any significant negative drawbacks. As such, more research is urgently needed into the effects of CBD on rheumatoid arthritis, as the evidence currently gathered is equally for and against.

THE FUTURE OF CBD FOR TREATING RHEUMATISM

The immunosuppressive properties of cannabinoids, as well as their ability to decrease inflammation, both factors which play a role in autoimmune disorders such as arthritis, have been known for some time.

Two years ago, Greg Gerdeman, assistant professor of Biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, spoke at the Annual Meeting of the Congress of Clinical Rheumatology. According to him, cannabinoids show a lot of preclinical promise because of the importance of the endocannabinoid system in regulating inflammation and immune response.

“In general, there is a great deal of preclinical research supporting that cannabinoids are generally immunosuppressive, they dampen down inflammation for example in situations of brain injury or stroke but also in the case of rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis”, he said at the meeting.

Gerdeman voiced what may be the most important factor regarding CBD and rheumatism: there needs to be more research. This research “needs to include research with patient populations who are already using cannabis and are seeking it. And the research structure—physicians and scientists—needs to be able to, need to be less shackled by policy so that they can research this with populations.”

In other words, the vast amount of anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana must turn into reliable clinical data.

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