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Cannabinoids and Rheumatoid Arthritis

October 10, 2017

Cannabinoids and Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Research Says


Affecting over 1.3 million people in the U.S. alone, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes painful inflammation at the joints. Studies that have explored the effects of cannabinoids have found evidence that the natural compounds could be beneficial for treating the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis involves the immune system mistakenly attacking one’s own body tissues, particularly the lining of the joints.

Those with rheumatoid arthritis suffer from tender, swollen joints. The disease typically first affects your smaller joints within your hands and feet. As the disease progresses, this painful condition can spread to other, larger joints like the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. Over time, this swelling causes bone erosion and joint deformity.

Some patients with rheumatoid arthritis can also experience inflammatory damage to other areas of the body, such as the skin, eyes, heart and circulatory system, and lungs. In severe cases, the disease can even cause physical disabilities.

Here we explore what research has so far discovered about the potential therapeutic application of cannabinoids for rheumatoid arthritis. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids:

Encourage proper immune system function

Cannabinoids interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system, a signaling network that keeps many of our systems in balance. One function the endocannabinoid system is tasked with regulating is the immune system. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system’s receptors, in particular the cannabinoid 2 receptor (CB2) found primarily on immune cells, cannabinoids encourage immunoregulation. Those with rheumatoid arthritis have overactive immune systems that a stimulated endocannabinoid system would be able to bring it back into homeostasis. Research has found that cannabinoids inhibit the inflammatory response in those with arthritis, preventing the breakdown of joints.

Have strong anti-inflammatory properties 

The two major cannabinoids — cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — have demonstrated in studies to effectively stimulate an anti-inflammatory response that can be beneficial for treating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers have discovered that there are cannabinoid receptors within the lining of joints, suggesting that cannabinoids could interact with those receptors to elicit a therapeutic response there. Scientists have said they believe that the use of cannabinoids could be a potential treatment for all inflammatory disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. One study found that CBD given to mice with induced arthritis caused significant clinical improvement.

Effectively manage pain

Cannabinoids have long demonstrated that they’re highly effective for reducing inflammation-related pain. Both CBD and THC have shown to effectively reduce pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients, while moving and at rest. This pain relief was also found to lead to a better quality of sleep.

Overall, research specifically examining how the immunosuppressive, anti-inflammatory, and pain relieving properties of cannabinoids can treat rheumatoid arthritis is lacking in volume, but findings in the studies that have been completed are promising.


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