What is arthritis?
The term ‘arthritis’ literally means inflammation of the joints, and it is the main cause of disability in those over fifty-five years of age in the industrialized west. The word arthritis does not just refer a single condition, however, but is an umbrella term covering more than 100 illnesses in which the musculoskeletal system is affected. The most well known of these illnesses, and indeed the most common, is osteoarthritis, which is a natural consequence of aging. Other forms of arthritic condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can affect people at any age. I suffer from two forms of arthritis: something called Behcet’s Disease, which is quite rare, and spondylitis, which is very common. These illnesses have fueled my interest in marijuana as a medication.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
The symptoms of arthritis depend on which type of the condition you have but varying degrees of pain are common to all types of the disease. Other common symptoms include fever, fatigue, eye problems and blindness.
Common Arthritis Medications
Some of the medications used to treat arthritis are not only ineffective, they are dangerous too.
First off we have NSAIDs, a group of pain killers; their full name is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs reduce inflammation as well as pain levels; however, although they don’t contain steroids, which are commonly used for severe arthritis, they are so acidic that they can cause stomach ulceration if taken over long periods of time. Some common NSAIDs are: Voltaren (diclofenac); Arthrotec (diclofenac/misoprostol); Advil (ibuprofen); and Naprosyn (Naproxen). All of these drugs are classified as gastrointestinal-toxins.
Next we have DMARDs, short for disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, which apart from steroids are the medical industry’s ‘big guys’ in the fight against arthritis. DMARDs do not relieve pain or fever but, over a fairly long period of time (up to 8 months), slow down the progress of arthritic disease. They can have serious side effects, up to and including death. One of the most common DMARDs is methotrexate, which is the one I take. It can cause: mouth sores; rash; diarrhea; blood count abnormalities; cirrhosis of liver; persistent cough; shortness of breath; hair loss; sensitivity to the sun. Methotrexate (Rheumatrex), along with cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and azathioprine (Imuran), is a cytoxin; that is, it kills cells – good ones as well as bad.
Cannabis for Arthritis
Marijuana has been used for the treatment of musculo-skeletal pain, such as that experienced by arthritis sufferers, since the 18th century. More recently evidence from recent research suggests that cannabis-based therapies are effective in the treatment of arthritis and the other rheumatic and degenerative hip, joint and connective tissue disorders. Not only is marijuana an effective painkiller though, it has also been shown to have powerful effects on the immune system and to be anti-inflammatory. That is, you get two for the price of one – cannabis used medicinally would eliminate the need for both the DMARD and the NSAID, without the unwanted side effects that those two groups of drugs have.
Cannabis also reduces intra-ocular pressure, that is, pressure within the eyeball. This means that not only is marijuana useful for the pain, inflammation, dodgy immune system, and nausea that go hand-in-hand with arthritis, it can help with the eye problems too.
Even if you find that you have to take the prescribed pharmaceuticals, it is an unpleasant fact that they can make you feel extremely nauseous. Cannabis is a powerful anti-emetic, so even if it is not the only medication you use to control your arthritis, it is a useful adjunct.