Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis for arthritis – Everything you should know

What is medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis is a plant-based medicine made from cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants. The term is used to refer to the whole, unprocessed plant extracts that can be used to treat illnesses. There are over a hundred cannabinoids inside cannabis but THC and CBD are the points of focus.

In the last decade there has been a rapidly increasing interest in using medical cannabis to treat a number of illnesses. But due to its public image, there is some resistance to creating cannabis-based medications. With continued research it’s hoped medical cannabis will be more readily available to treat chronic pain as well as other afflictions.

Since 2018, medical cannabis has been legal under NHS guidelines to prescribe. However, there has been pushback from medical professionals unwilling to prescribe their patients with cannabis.

Why so few cannabis prescriptions?

Unsurprisingly, cannabis has something of a negative profile to many people. Years of misleading information and lack of proper research have labelled it as a no go substance for lots of people.

Researchers have been unable to conduct proper studies on cannabis due to its precarious legal stature. And as a knock on effect, doctors are unwilling to prescribe cannabis because of the lack of available information. It’s a Catch-22 situation.

For the past number of years, there have been ongoing inquiries into how medical cannabis might be able to assist the body. In particular, there have been studies to research the benefits of medical cannabis.

Benefits of medical cannabis for rheumatoid arthritis pain relief

Commonly, medical cannabis is being used more and more to treat chronic pain. This is, naturally, a highly sought after benefit for arthritic patients.

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The two most common forms of arthritis are Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder whereby the immune system releases inflammatory proteins that attack the joints. There have been numerous randomized clinical trials that have demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of cannabis-based medications (such as Sativex).

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects the joint cartilage and bones, causing them to stiffen in pain. OA typically attacks the hip, knee, and thumb joints.

Unfortunately, there have not been a great deal of rigorous studies into the effects of cannabis on arthritis. However, some studies into CBD oil for arthritis in animals have found promising evidence that cannabidiol can reduce inflammatory pain in animals.

In 2006, a study conducted on the cannabis-based mouth spray Sativex found that it relieved symptoms of arthritic pain. While these findings are incredibly promising, there is much more work to be done in order to convince the scientific and medical establishment.

What do the leading authorities say about medical cannabis?

There have been anecdotal reports for many years of the effectiveness of cannabis to tackle osteoarthritis. Many doctors on the NHS though are unwilling to prescribe cannabis because of the lack of evidence. But there is growing support including from the Arthritis Society of Canada.

In Canada, cannabis has been legal since 2001 making it an ideal proving ground for cannabis efficacy. The Canadian legal system decided almost 20 years ago that it was unconstitutional to force patients “to choose between health and imprisonment.”

Today, Canadian citizens have greater access to cannabis than many people in other parts of the world, including the UK.

On the Canada Arthritis Society website, they recognize the ability of cannabinoids “to reduce osteoarthritis pain, inflammation and nerve damage.” However, they do point out the “considerable gaps” in research into arthritis and the uncomfortable position it puts health professionals in.

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Side effects and risks of using medical cannabis for arthritis

It should go without saying but cannabis can affect you both mentally and physically. The feelings and side effects vary in intensity, however, there are some common denominators.

Like we mentioned above, there are two popular cannabinoids in cannabis–THC and CBD.

These cannabinoids are the ones researchers and arthritic patients are most interested in. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the cannabinoid responsible for euphoric feelings of being “high” or drowsy. While CBD doesn't create that fuzzy feeling there is mounting evidence to suggest it can, by itself, help alleviate pain and inflammation.

The side effects of medical cannabis include:

  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of disconnectedness (Dissociation)
  • Irregular appetite
  • Coughing or feelings of tightness in the chest
  • Paranoia

Arguably, some side effects of medical cannabis are a little better than others.

Speaking at a congress of the European League Against Rheumatism, Dr. Steve Alexander stated that some side effects could help rheumatology patients.

Dr. Alexander is Associate Professor in Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Nottingham Medical School. He thinks, for example, the drowsiness associated with cannabis could be beneficial since sleeplessness does affect those suffering with chronic pain.

While this is not to say cannabis should be taken lightly, it points out that there may be benefits where others see problems.

Is medical cannabis addictive?

Contrary to popular belief research suggests that there is, in fact, a very low risk of addiction to medical cannabis. Often when medical cannabis is prescribed it is to be taken very low doses and so the rate of toxicity is incredibly low, too. However, there have been concerns that among heavy users there is a danger of physical dependency.

Is medical cannabis the right choice for you?

The only way to know for certain is to speak with your doctor.

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Right now, medical prescriptions of cannabis from the NHS are few and far between. But a doctor will be able to talk to you about the specific risks and rewards of embarking on a cannabis-based treatment for your condition.

A healthcare professional can also talk to you about possible side effects, drug interactions, and also the legal ramifications.


Medical cannabis shows incredible promise as a treatment option for those suffering arthritis (OA or RA). If it affects the brain and immune system receptors the way researchers think it could effectively reduce inflammation and chronic pain.

Unfortunately, public opinion is only beginning to lighten towards cannabis and its potential benefits. It may be a long time before we see medical cannabis stocked as a regular medication in pharmacies in the UK. Though CBD is legal in the UK so that might be a short term solution if you need one.

If you feel that medical cannabis could help you and mainstream medications have failed it may be time to talk to your doctor. Getting a CBD oil or medical cannabis prescription in the United Kingdom is not easy but it’s worth it.

You may also like to read: Medical Cannabis for Insomnia – Does it help?

Jon Cosgrave

Jon is a content writer and copywriter. When not grappling with words, he grapples at jiu-jitsu. His fingers are in constant agony.
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