Monday, November 21, 2005


Arthritis is a painful disease that used to be thought of only as a consequence of old age. Today, we know that arthritis is occurring with more frequency across age groups, and that sufferers can benefit from a variety of interventions, including medical marijuana.

Arthritis is a worldwide affliction, more common than cancer and heart disease. It's the world's leading cause of pain, and generates billions of dollars worth of sales of pain relief medication per year.

The disease has plagued humans for thousands of years; the famous ancient Roman baths were created not only to promote good hygiene, but to help Romans ease aches and pains caused by arthritis.

Arthritis focuses its fury on body joints. The joint lining, or cartilage, acts as a shock absorber. It consists of water and protein fibers called collagen. The collagen matrix that gives cartilage its shape and strength is insulated by a net of "proteglucans." These are filled with water to protect and nourish the cartilage tissue.

Proteglucans are long molecular chains that include chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. Glucosamine is absolutely essential to the production of water-binding proteins in cartilage; chondroitin sulfates attract fluids that facilitate ease of movement and attract nutrients necessary for cartilage repair. Injury, wear, or corrosive enzymes can weaken this protection so cartilage loses its ability to repair itself. It slowly deteriorates and forms crevices that impede movement and cause arthritis pain.

There are an estimated 34 million people with arthritis in the US and Canada who are afflicted with either of two types of arthritis. One type is rheumatoid arthritis; the other type is osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a joint's "synovial membrane," which is crucial to joint movement. As rheumatoid arthritis becomes more severe, it destroys cartilage and weakens the skeleton. It is most common among people whose immune systems are compromised.

Osteoarthritis primarily attacks cartilage and bones, and is most often seen in older people. It can occur due to the mechanics of ongoing use of the body.

Musculoskeletal injury or immune system deficiency are often indicators of arthritis or co-existent with it. The most persistent symptom of arthritis is inflammation of joints, and pain caused by that inflammation.

Arthritis interferes with many facets of life. It can keep people from being totally ambulatory, which in turn prevents them from working, exercising, shopping, and enjoying family and social life. People with arthritis might lose muscle tone, jobs, and the ability to take care of themselves. They might also suffer from stress-related depression and anxiety, as the inexorable pain and lack of full body flexibility caused by arthritis grinds on their spirit.

The disease can cause a person to be unable to move without a wheelchair, and can gradually twist a person's limbs into painful configurations.

Women get rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at a higher rate than men. It is interesting to note that women's arthritis often goes into remission when they get pregnant. Women develop RA more frequently in the year after pregnancy; pre-existing symptoms can increase after a baby is born. These facts lead researchers to believe that gender and the female hormone system might play a role in the development and progression of RA.

Other researchers are looking into genetic causes of RA. The specific genetic marker associated with RA, HLA-DR4, is found in more than two-thirds of Caucasians with RA; it is only found in 20 percent of the general population.

Although people with this genetic marker have an increased risk of developing RA, its presence alone is not a diagnostic tool to predict or detect RA. Many people who have the marker either don't have or will never get RA. While this marker can be passed from parent to child, it is not definite that if you have RA your child will too.

Medical marijuana, meditation, bodywork, herbal therapy, hot springs, mineral baths, acupuncture, exercise, supplements, Far Infrared saunas, topical ointments, and other therapies have been used to treat arthritis without the use of surgery and chemical medicines. Standard allopathic doctors heavily rely on prescription drugs and surgery to treat arthritis, but the success rate of these interventions is not high, and the dangers of these approaches are substantial.

Most doctors will try to treat arthritis with medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen and other oral or topical analgesics. The most commonly used analgesic, acetaminophen (found in aspirin-free Anacin, Excedrin, Panadol, Tylenol) does not cause severe side effects with moderate usage, but long-term use of acetaminophen is thought to cause kidney disease.

Doses of these medicines are often large. Some patients take thousands of milligrams of aspirin per day in continuous doses, which can cause stomach pain and damage; aspirin causes at least 1,000 deaths annually in the United States. Doctors worried about aspirin side-effects often prescribe aspirin alternatives that are called "nonacetylated salicylates," which are sold as CMT, Tricosal, and Trilisate. These medicines can cause deafness or ringing in the ears.

Stronger pain killers prescribed against arthritis pain include codeine (Dolacet, Hydrocet, Lorcet, Lortab); morphine (Avinza, Oramorph); oxycodone (Vicodin, Oxycontin, Roxicodone); propoxyphene (Percocet, Darvon, Darvocet) and tramadol (Ultram, Ultracet). These medicines are serious drugs with severe side-effects. Problems include psychological and physical dependence, addiction, constipation, dizziness, lightheadedness, mood changes, nausea, sedation, shortness of breath, vomiting, depression, and death.

People who take overdoses of these drugs, or who use them while also using alcohol, can suffer fatal consequences.

As with many standard medical approaches, the use of pain-killers doesn't actually solve the underlying causes of arthritis, it just masks the pain. It is joint and bone deterioration, along with joint inflammation, that causes arthritis pain.

To treat arthritis inflammation, standard allopathic doctors prescribe anti-inflammatories such as steroids, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and COX-2 inhibitors. All these substances can cause serious side-effects. Corticosteroids (Cortisone), prednisone and similar medications cause bruising, cataracts, elevated blood sugar, hypertension, increased appetite, indigestion, insomnia, mood swings, muscle weakness, nervousness or restlessness, osteoporosis, infection and thin skin.

In an effort to avoid use of chemical painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and to avoid undergoing surgery, some patients have turned to natural medicines such as cannabis. It is interesting to note that the use of cannabis as medicine arose many centuries ago in parts of China and India, and has long been a part of time-tested natural healing systems that deal with diseases such as arthritis.

The Indian health system known as Ayurveda includes cannabis as one of many herbs and plants that have medical efficacy. Herbs like ginger, turmeric, ashwaganda and frankincense have also been used to fight arthritis and similar ailments, such as fibromyalgia.

Ginger root inhibits production of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which are partially responsible for pain and inflammation. Turmeric inhibits prostaglandin production and stimulates creation of cortisol, which relieves inflammation. It has similarities to capsaicin (an active ingredient in cayenne pepper), which depletes nerve endings of the neurotransmitter substance P, which is a component of neural pain transmission. When turmeric was taken internally along with cayenne pepper, it significantly lowered inflammation. Capsaicin is usually used in ointments that are applied externally to arthritic joints. Topical ointments containing carrier oils, cannabis extracts, turmeric, ginger root, and ashwaganda can deliver healing herbs into the skin efficiently.

Frankincense comes from a tree that yields gum when its bark is peeled away; studies show frankincense inhibits production of leukotrienes which cause inflammation. Ashwaganda is an Asian plant of the potato family. Its roots have long been used to treat rheumatism, high blood pressure, immune dysfunctions, male sexual performance problems; it also decreases inflammation. Ashwaganda is sometimes called "Indian ginseng."

Cannabis is an important anti-arthritis medicine because it is an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant that inhibits the release of "cytokines." Cytokines are part of the mechanism that causes the inflammation that accompanies arthritis. Release of some cytokines is impaired by cannabis, but research shows that effects of cannabis differ by cell type, experimental conditions, and especially the concentration and type of cannabinoids studied.

A non-psychoactive cannabinoid, ajulemic acid, was found to reduce joint tissue damage in rats with arthritis. Tests on human tissue done in vitro showed a 50% suppression of one of the body chemicals (interleukin-1beta) central to the progression of inflammation and joint tissue injury in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

There's plenty of research evidence suggesting that cannabis therapies limit arthritis and other rheumatic and degenerative disorders of the hip, joint and connective tissues. One of the most important functions of cannabis in this regard is as a pain reliever.

Cannabis has immune-modulation and anti-inflammatory properties. It doesn't just mask pain- it may be working to reduce the actual causes of chronic inflammatory diseases. Research on cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, found it suppresses the immune response responsible for arthritis, protecting test subjects from more severe damage to their joints and markedly improving their condition.

Human studies have shown cannabis is effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, which is one of the diseases listed by the many government agencies that allow medical use of cannabis. Cannabis improves mobility and reduces morning stiffness and inflammation.

Patients who use cannabis often report that they are able to reduce their use of potentially harmful Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Medical researchers at Jerusalem's Hebrew University found that cannabidiol breaks down in the body to become an acid with potent anti-inflammatory action comparable to the drug indomethacin, but without the considerable gastrointestinal side effects associated with that indomethacin.

When the body metabolizes tetra-hydrocannibinol (THC), which is one of the primary components in cannabis and is responsible for much of its psychoactive effects, it produces metabolites that have anti-inflammatory and pain-killing effects.

By modifying this metabolite, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center have produced a synthetic carboxylic acid known as CT-3, which is more powerful than the natural metabolite and can be given in smaller doses.

Animal tests found CT-3 effective against both chronic and acute inflammation; it also prevented destruction of joint tissue from chronic inflammation.

Canada recently gave approval to a pharmaceutical grade extract made from whole, organic cannabis. The product is called Sativex, and is effective in pain relief and muscle disorders. The efficacy of natural organic cannabis extracts has been proven by the process that the Sativex manufacturer used when qualifying the drug for Canadian pharmaceutical regulators.

The long safety record of marijuana (no one has ever died of an overdose) and the fact that a metabolite with the desired anti-inflammatory effect is produced in the body when marijuana is used, strongly suggest that marijuana and its derivatives are safe, effective anti-inflammatory drugs.

In addition, CT3, THC, and other cannabinoids have proven analgesic effects in animals. In some cases the dose-dependent beneficial effect of THC was equivalent to that of morphine, but with a much greater duration of action and far less side effects when compared to morphine.

In contrast to the NSAIDs commonly prescribed arthritis sufferers, CT3 does not cause ulcers at therapeutically relevant doses. Moreover, it does not depress respiration, create dependence, induce weight loss, or cause mutations, as some arthritis pharmaceutical drugs do.
Studies on CT3's mechanism of action are currently underway, with cytokine synthesis one of the pathways being studied.

Scientists at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London tested both injections and oral doses of the cannabinoid CBD in mice with collagen-induced arthritis, a joint disease that mimics human rheumatoid arthritis. CBD is a precursor of THC. The studies found that moderate doses of CBD prevent joint damage in arthritic test subjects. CBD also suppressed activity of immune cells and reduced inflammation in joint tissue by reducing tumor necrosis factor, which is a chemical cause of swelling.

Cannabis helps combat rheumatoid arthritis because it functions as an immune system modulator. Rheumatoid arthritis can be caused by disruption of normal immune system function in response to an initial infection or trauma.

Cannabis and other herbs are called adaptogens because they can help the immune system maintain normal function and fight off the effects of disease and infection.

Arthritis sufferers are advised to use cannabis intelligent as part of a comprehensive approach to regaining full function.

The common medical paradigm emphasizes symptom relief without seeking to address the causes of dysfunction. A holistic paradigm involving medical cannabis helps patients take control of their own bodies to determine what is causing dysfunction and remediate those causes.

Medical marijuana's ability to reduce inflammation, interfere with pain transmission, and regulate the immune system make it an ideal part of a holistic program. Arthritis sufferers can use cannabis to increase their mobility and reduce pain. After they have medicated with cannabis, they can exercise, do physical therapy, enjoy bodywork, and engage in heat therapy using Far Infrared saunas and mineral baths.

They can do total internal body cleanse programs that remove toxins that often contribute to immune disorders and related problems that can manifest themselves as arthritis.

Other anti-arthritis tactics include making nutrient-rich fresh juices from organic fruits and vegetables such as ginger, citrus, beets, celery, peppers, and cucumbers. The plant-produced phytochemicals in fresh juices are especially useful for cleansing, detoxifying, and restoring body tissue. Proper diet and nutrition, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables and an avoidance of caffeine, chemicals and junk food, are essential for people trying to reduce the impact of arthritis on their lives.

It is also useful to use cartilage-building supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin. Another helpful supplement is methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM), which helps relieve arthritis pain and inflammation in joints and muscles. MSM boosts the blood supply to tissues, reduces muscle spasms, and softens scar tissue.

Intelligent users of medical cannabis experiment with various types of cannabis, as well as various methods for using it. Some varieties of cannabis contain higher percentages of CBD, which has shown promise as an effective anti-arthritis substance. Instead of smoking cannabis in a marijuana cigarette, some patients prefer to use water pipes, bongs, vaporizers and other methods for inhaling active ingredients from heated cannabis. The oral use of cannabis as tinctures, extracts or food products produces different effects that the smoking of cannabis because the digestive tract metabolizes the cannabis and causes a variety of effects that are not experienced when cannabis is smoked. The topical use of cannabis is also an interesting route of administration; the effects are more subtle than when cannabis is smoked, eaten or used as an extract, but can often be quite substantial.

Although medical cannabis has few if any severe side effects, especially when compared to prescription pharmaceuticals, it is not without its detractors.

Some people have a hard time handling the psychological effects of cannabis, which may include euphoria, forgetfulness, loss of concentration, mood swings, and depression.
Others find that cannabis interferes with coordination, motor skills, energy levels, motivation, eyesight, balance, hearing, and other body functions.

These effects are relatively minor, and are most often experienced by novice users who haven't properly regulated their dose level.

Patients who experience these effects can usually avoid cannabis discomfort by using different varieties, smaller doses, and different methods of administration.

Many medical marijuana patients have said that medical marijuana properly grown with products made by a Canadian company called Advanced Nutrients has given them increased ability to enjoy life by allowing them to utilize clean, potent marijuana that defeats their arthritis in ways that are superior to those of prescription drugs and other methods of treatment.

There is no magic pill or plant that can miraculously take away all pain all the time, but the interventions listed above can be helpful when utilized in an intelligent manner.


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