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Medical Marijuana and Osteoarthritis


Common Medications Used to Treat Osteoarthritis

When someone’s osteoarthritis pain gets to the point where they need to get medical help, their doctor will typically start them on a treatment regimen involving low doses of drugs with minimal side effects. If these don’t work, however, doctors will gradually recommend more powerful medications. These are a few of the more common drugs used to treat the condition, as well as information on side effects:

  • Acetaminophen — This is usually the first line of treatment recommended for osteoarthritis. Acetaminophen is the generic name for over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol. While this is generally considered a safe drug, if people take more than their recommended dosage, they may be susceptible to liver problems. This is particularly the case if someone takes acetaminophen and also has two or more alcoholic drinks per day.

  • NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) — NSAIDs such as Motrin, Aleve and Advil are recommended if acetaminophen doesn’t work. These drugs are typically effective at reducing inflammation and pain, but side effects are more numerous than acetaminophen. These include potential kidney damage and bleeding of the stomach. NSAIDs can also increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

  • Celebrex — This is a prescription-strength NSAID that is designed to lower the risk of stomach problems. However, they also pose a risk of kidney damage.

  • Opioids — Patients suffering from severe osteoarthritis pain are often prescribed powerful opioid medications. While these drugs are typically effective at reducing pain, they are very addictive and also come with a very high risk of potentially fatal overdoses.

  • Corticosteroids — In cases where patients don’t find relief from oral medications, corticosteroids are often injected directly into a patient’s joints. These usually only work for a short-period of time, however, and can only be administered a certain number of times per year.


According to the National Academy of an Aging Society, arthritis is one of the most common chronic medical conditions in America. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, which is related to wear and tear of cartilage. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 20 million people in the United States.

Collectively, the many types of arthritis costs patients billions of dollars. For example, according to a Stanford University study titled "The economic impact of arthritis," patients with arthritis collectively incur over $56 billion annually in medical expenditures and work loss.

Currently, more than 100 medications and drugs are used in the treatment of arthritis. Yet many patients prefer to medicate with medical marijuana, which is an affordable, natural alternative that lacks the side effects found in the medicines traditionally used to treat arthritis.

Scientific studes have shown that medicinal marijuana can be an effective way to manage arthritis symptoms. For example, the Journal of Neuroimmunology stated in a 2005 article titled "Cannabinoids and the Immune System: Potential For the Treatment of Inflammatory Diseases?" by J. Ludovic and Takashi Yamamura, that cannabinoids may be considered for treatment of inflammatory disease such as arthritis.

Additionally, Ethan Russo, MD, Senior Medical Advisor at the Cannabinoid Research Institute, stated in a 2005 Americans for Safe Access brochure titled "Arthritis and Medical Marijuana":

Science has now demonstrated that the THC component of cannabis is a very effective analgesic (pain killer), and that the CBD (cannabidiol) component has unique immunomodulatory benefits as an antagonist of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, supporting benefits in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.


Taking Medical Marijuana for Osteoarthritis

There are several ways to take medical cannabis for osteoarthritis, of course. You can roll it into a joint and smoke it, or you can put a pinch of weed in a bong or a pipe. You can bake it into edibles such as cookies or brownies, or you can use a mouth spray.

One of the most effective methods of using medical marijuana for osteoarthritis, however, is through topical medicines such as ointments, balms, creams or salves. Topicals that contain either cannabis or extracted cannabinoids have helped many patients suffering from aliments affecting the joints. They don’t produce a psychoactive effect, so you can use them at work without having to worry about getting stoned. Even the most potent topicals only produce an extremely mild feeling of euphoria at the most.

Some patients, however, prefer taking the raw leaves of the cannabis plant and juicing them. But since this is a relatively new method, the jury is largely still out regarding its effectiveness.

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