With the advent of cannabis legalization, one can’t miss the fantastic claims of medical marijuana: Marijuana cures cancer, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Too good to be true? Undoubtedly, but medical marijuana does provide relief for those of us suffering from auto-immune diseases. Medical research has shown that cannabis can reduce inflammation and pain in joints. The problem is separating fact from the wild-eyed pronouncements of snake oil salespeople.
Cannabis contains three main categories of molecules that may help the RA sufferer: THC, the stuff that gets you stoned: CBDs or cannabinoids, a collection of sixty or more different molecules which won’t get you loaded, but provides relief for a variety of ailments, and terpenes, the aroma molecules which also may provide benefits to a medical patient.
Here Dr. Sims of the OMMC Clinic discusses the process to obtain a Medical Marijuana card and the various methods of cannabis application.
The use of cannabis for RA is administered by three main methods: topical ointments, tinctures and smoking or vaping. Let’s look at each in turn:
For the RA sufferer, using a topical ointment is perhaps the safest method for administering medical marijuana. Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms and oils that provide almost immediate but temporary relief from arthritis pain. For me, relief lasts one to two hours after application. Though there its necessary to combine both THC and CBD for best results, by and large topicals are not psychoactive.
Cannabis-infused lotions, salves, oils, sprays, and other transdermal methods of relief work by binding to a network of receptors called CB2. These CB2 receptors are found throughout the body and are activated either by the body’s naturally-occurring endocannabinoids or by cannabis compounds known as “phytocannabinoids” (e.g., THC, CBD).
Even if a topical contains active THC, it still won’t induce that intense “high” you’d get from smoking or ingesting cannabis. With most topicals, cannabinoids can’t breach the bloodstream; they only penetrate to the system of CB2 receptors. Transdermal patches, however, do deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream and could have psychoactive effects with a high enough THC content.
Dr. Sims recommends topicals with a beeswax base such as the Hot Pot Salve by Flying Dutchman.
Another option would be Muscle Melt by Ethos Extracts.
Both products are currently available in Washington state at recreational outlets. As of this date, they are not available in Oregon to recreational users. To purchase them, you must have a medical marijuana card. With the card, you can purchase more effective products.
Dr. Sims also recommends tinctures, but he is less specific on the benefits. Research on the benefits of cannabis has been stifled by the illegality of the herb since early in the 20th century. With huge number of different molecules in the plant, science just hasn’t figured out the best formulation for arthritis relief.
Another problem is dosage. Dr. Sims recommends starting with one drop of the tincture twice and day for four days, then checking to see if you feel improvement in your joints. If not, you increase the dosage by a drop for another four days and so forth. This process is called titration and can be inexact at best. The literature indicates that dosage for tinctures can range from 2.5 mg (a couple of drops) to 20 mg (a eyedropper full).
CBD tinctures have no psychoactive components and can legally be purchased through the mail. Two sources are American Shaman and Greenway Michigan (recommended by Dr. Sims), though I must say that when I ordered from Greenway Michigan they canceled my order a couple of days later citing supply problems.
Smoking marijuana is the least effective method of treating RA. Not only is the smoke hazardous to your health, but you can’t work or drive without being impaired. Vaping maybe an option, but they call it “smoking dope” for a reason. Your goal is to alleviate your pain and live a normal life, not get toasted and spend your day eating barbecue potato chips and watching Star Trek reruns. That said, there are high CBD/low THC strains available in the shops that work very well on RA symptoms.