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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Marijuana

18 September, 2013
Does medical marijuana help with Rheumatoid Arthitis?

Today, our family received some very sad news. My daughter, Christeen, was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. RA is a genetic, autoimmune disease that attacks the joints. In Christeen’s case, her knees. So being the activist I am, of course I went searching for how Marijuana can help this condition.

What is Rheumatoid Arthitis?

But before we get started, let’s define what RA really is. Sometimes, called Rheumatism (or a “touch of the Rheumatism” as Gramma P used to call it), sufferers have stiff joints and generally feel unwell or tired. Since it is an autoimmune disease, it works with the complex system of cells and antibodies that seek out and destroy certain organisms and substances such as infections. When body tissues are mistaken for infections, an autoimmune disease is formed.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Marijuana

In November of 2005, the first study was done on RA and Marijuana. It was found that not only did it ease the pain, it actually suppressed the disease. An article in Rheumatology Medical Journal, says that although the differences were small and variable in the 56 patients, the results ARE significant. The findings stress that a larger trial is definitely necessary. It is needed to investigate in more detail how Marijuana affects the disease.
Based on hear say evidence that Marijuana CAN provide pain relief for people with RA. In a recent survey, 155 people out of 947, or 16%, who bought Marijuana on the black market said they did so to relieve symptoms of RA.

In a double blind trial, researchers randomized 31 patients to receive treatment with Marijuana and 27 a placebo. The Marijuana, named Sativex, was developed into an easy to use mouth spray useable by patients up to six times a day. The spray delivered in equal parts, the THC and the CBD. Both have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and the Cannabidiol (CBD) blocked the progression of RA and produced improvements in symptoms.

Patients had base-line tests before being randomized to determine which group they fell into. And the patients only took doses in the evening hours to minimalize the intoxication effects. The starting dose was one spray within half an hour of going to sleep. It was then increased by one spray every two days depending upon the individual’s response over a two week period. Dosing was then maintained for another three weeks.

It was found that in comparison with the placebo, patients who administered Marijuana had noticeable improvements in pain in movement, pain at rest, quality of sleep, inflammation, and intensity of pain. For example, in a study where 0 is no pain, the Marijuana users moved from 7 to 4.8 on pain in movement, 5.3 to 3.1 on pain at rest, and 5.7 to 3.4 for quality of sleep. On a scale of 0-100 for pain present, the Marijuana patients moved from 48 to 33, while placebo patients remained unchanged at 50.

Side effects were mild or moderate (light headedness or dry mouth). Of the 8 patients that experienced light headedness, 4 of those had it occur during the first two weeks while gradually increasing the dose. (Two occurred within two days after this period.) No patient using the Marijuana had to withdraw from the study due to adverse side effects. Oddly, 3 patients from the placebo group DID withdraw! Withdrawals from the placebo group probably had to do with a psychological effect, a spontaneous occurrence, or a reaction with another medication.

In further trials, dosing will be extended to a 24 hour period. The 24 hour dosing was used in a Multiple Sclerosis trial (using the self administering model) and only resulted in minimal intoxication.

The THC that causes the “high” in Marijuana has valuable pharmacological importance. It is believed to be an essential therapeutic component and, therefore, should not be removed from the medicine. The self-administration via mouth spray, as judged by the patient, also seemed to cut down on intoxication.

One of the providers of the study, Dr. Robson, believes that fears of the Marijuana being used primarily for intoxication is unfounded. In fact, it is a very rare event. So far, there has been no cases of abuse. The motivation of the medicinal user is totally different than that of a recreational user. Medicinal users want symptom relief while recreational users just want to get high.

So there you have it. Possible relief for RA. Not a cure but a way to feel better. I’m going to make sure daughter, Christeen, sees this ASAP!!

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