The Arthritis Society funds research to find out if patients are telling the truth about cannabis putting their arthritis into remission.
There’s definitely good news for the 54 million people who suffer from debilitating arthritis: A study commissioned by The Arthritis Society has been investigating avenues toward developing breakthrough therapies using medical cannabis.
Canadian researcher, Dr. Jason McDougall, received a Strategic Operating Grant from the organization to complete a three-year study on the ability of cannabis to effectively repair arthritic joints. Dr. McDougall is a professor of pharmacology and anesthesia at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and one of the world’s foremost pain researchers.
Can Cannabis Do More Than Just Kill Arthritis Pain?
The primary purpose of the study aims to discover if cannabis-based medicine does more than simply dulls the pain for arthritis suffers—what if it can actually reverse the damage? It’s the very first research funded by the organization to look directly into therapies derived from medical cannabis.
“People living with arthritis pain are looking for alternatives to improve their quality of life,” said Janet Yale, president and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “We need research to help answer the many important questions around medical cannabis and its use. Our goal is to give Canadians the ability to make informed choices about their treatment options and to give physicians evidence-based guidelines to make treatment recommendations for their patients. This project is an important step to achieving these goals.”
Arthritic Joints Have Abnormally High Concentrations of CB2 Receptors
The research builds on previous work from Chinese scientists who found that not only do arthritic joints contain extremely high concentrations of CB2 receptors but that those sites also suggest a pathway for treatment.
What is a CB2 receptor? In layman’s terms, CB2 is a molecule in the cell wall that acts as a doorway for cannabinoids to enter the cell. It’s the cell’s way of flagging down helpful particles that circulate past it during the day-to-day functioning of the body.
While the body produces its own endocannabinoids that can attach and work on a cell through CB2 receptors, cannabis-based medicine also has the ability to walk through the same door. Researchers believe this may be the reason why cannabis is effective in treating disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
Evidence is Pointing to the Ability of Cannabis to Repair Joints
The thinking goes like this: If cannabis-based medicine can use CB2 receptors to move inside of cells and directly affect the firing of pain signals in the joints, can the medicine also repair joint damage while it’s there?
There are plenty of reasons to think so.
A study in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B found that the body’s endocannabinoid system releases antioxidants that help repair damaged cells when it becomes triggered by outside cannabinoids.
And anecdotal evidence, such as the story of a Maine woman whose use of cannabis smoothies led to so much relief that her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms went into remission, provide further thought-provoking justifications to delve deeper into the treatment possibilities of cannabis.
What’s more: businesses are jumping on the bandwagon. Canadian medical cannabis companies Aphria, Inc. and the Peace Naturals Project have each pledged $100,000 to the Arthritis Society in order to help foot the bill for Dr. McDougall’s research. When the market is bullish on new research, it’s a good sign for sufferers.
McDougall’s Team Hopes to Figure Out the Immune Response Connection
The reality is that cannabinoid receptors play a crucial role in regulating the body’s immune system. What’s not clear is exactly how they operate. From a strictly biological perspective, auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic disorders, like osteoarthritis, don’t make much sense. What causes the body to attack itself or even be unable to repair such crucial functions, such as joint dexterity? The amazing discovery of cannabinoid receptors at inflammatory sites can definitely provide an answer.
Thanks to a litany of previous works in this arena, McDougall’s team already knows that cannabis-based medicines act directly on CB2 sites and suppress inflammation and pain by mediating immune responses at the sites of inflammation. This suggests that the body’s reaching out for molecules to help it reconstruct its vital elements.
The next step will be to see if changes to the medicine create different responses in the body. Hopefully, researchers will discover new ways in which cannabinoid receptors take up or use medicines, and it could open up a new window of treatment possibilities. Much of our current knowledge is theoretical, with most doctors and patients being thankful for effective pain treatment—whether it’s understood or not is a secondary concern.
As our knowledge of the body’s endocannabinoid system grows, and researchers continue to look further into how cannabis-based medicines can reduce inflammation and positively affect nerves, we’re very likely to discover novel methods of treatment—and possible ways to reverse the long-lasting joint damage of arthritis.
While McDougall’s research has yet to be completed, we’re looking forward to seeing the results of his tests soon.
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