Medical Cannabis for Arthritis: Here’s What You Should Know

Medical Cannabis for Arthritis: Here’s What You Should Know

Arthritis is one of the UK’s most common chronic pain conditions, with an estimated 10 million people suffering from some form of the condition. While arthritis is commonly associated with the elderly and seen as a natural side-effect of ageing, it can actually strike anyone at any time.

Arthritis itself is an umbrella term used to describe an array of different but related conditions, including osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many therapies available that can help patients manage associated symptoms, including medical cannabis for arthritis.

What is Arthritis?

The term arthritis refers to more than 100 different types of joint disease. There are over 100 different types of arthritis and some strike certain demographics more commonly than others. Osteoarthritis, for example, is commonly associated with the elderly and develops as a result of joint degradation.

The most common types of arthritis include:

Osteoarthritis: Also described as a ‘wear and tear’ disease, osteoarthritis occurs when your joints are overused and the shock-absorbing cartilage between bones starts to break down. This typically affects older individuals but can also come about from joint injuries or obesity, which puts extra weight on the joints. A lack of cartilage makes movement painful and reduces overall mobility.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease where the body attacks its joints, triggering inflammation and causing significant pain. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect multiple joints and may occur in a symmetrical pattern — for example, if the two big toes on your right foot are inflamed, the same is likely to be true of your left foot.

Psoriatic arthritis: You may have heard of psoriasis, which is a common skin disease that causes a rash and scaly, itchy skin. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that attacks the joints, causing swelling and pain. Psoriatic arthritis typically affects only a select number of joints.

Gout: Many people don’t realise that gout is a form of arthritis. It’s actually very common and is characterised by swelling and pain that tends to target one joint at a time — typically the big toe. Gout usually comes and goes in a pattern of flares and remission periods.

Medical Cannabis Explained

In 2018, medical marijuana in the UK was legalised making it a viable treatment strategy for many patients suffering from a variety of physical and psychological conditions.

It’s critical to note that medical cannabis cannot cure conditions but is usually prescribed as a way of managing symptoms associated with certain disorders.

Take arthritis, for example. Medical marijuana in the UK may be prescribed to eligible patients suffering from chronic pain conditions, like arthritis. The medication contains a number of active ingredients, known as cannabinoids, which interact with our endocannabinoid system. The main two cannabinoids found in medical cannabis are THC and CBD.

The endocannabinoid system participates in a number of important body functions, including responding to inflammation, regulating appetite, and controlling temperature. Medical cannabis interacts with receptors in this system to inhibit the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which causes a decrease in excitability and reduces pain signals to the brain.

Those who have been suffering from arthritis for many years with no relief from symptoms may find medical cannabis for arthritis to be an appropriate option.

Obtaining a Prescription for Medical Cannabis

Not all patients suffering from arthritis will be eligible for medical marijuana in the UK. It’s a good idea to get a handle on eligibility criteria before pursuing this as a possible treatment strategy.

To obtain a prescription, patients generally need to have tried multiple therapies without success. In the words of the NHS:

‘Doctors should always first consider prescribing medicines that are licensed for the specific condition that the patient presents with. This is because these products have been tested for quality, safety and efficacy…If this is not possible then the next option would be an off-label use of a licensed medicine…Prescribing an unlicensed product should be considered third and only if an individual patient has exceptional clinical needs…’

With that in mind, it is unlikely to be prescribed to those who have only recently been diagnosed with arthritis or any other type of chronic pain condition.

Not all doctors are qualified to prescribe medical cannabis. Unless your clinician is on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council, they will not be able to issue you a prescription. They may, however, be able to provide a referral to a licensed clinic, where a specialist will be able to determine your eligibility and and discuss your treatment with medical cannabis for arthritis. For more information, contact a clinic today.