Medical Marijuana and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Where Does the Research Stand?

How much do we know about the medicinal effects of marijuana on rheumatoid arthritis? What has the research, up to this point, proven? Contrary to popular belief, not much, but that shouldn’t deter you from believing in the healing power of medical marijuana. Up to this point, research has proven that marijuana has the capability of initiating or inhibiting certain reactions in the body because it is tied to the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoid receptors are located all throughout the body and marijuana contains the components that activate those receptors. There are some obvious examples of the healing power of marijuana, seen when it’s used to treat epileptics. Unfortunately, up to this point, the field of marijuana research hasn’t received the federal support it needs to find out exactly how these effects are achieved. With the removal of the PHS Review by the Obama administration, the nation finds itself on the brink of something special.

What do we know about the ties between marijuana and rheumatoid arthritis? The two principal cannabinoid receptors are located all throughout body. CB receptor 1 (CB 1) is found throughout the body’s nervous system and CB receptor 2 (CB 2) is found on the body’s immune cells. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune, chronic, inflammatory, disorder that affects joints in the hands and feet.  Therefore, CB 2 receptors draw a lot of attention in the field of arthritis treatment. The belief by researchers is that CB 2 agonists (stimulate the receptor) such as marijuana components THC and CBD may reduce the autoimmune attack on the body’s joints.

In 2014, Japanese researchers at Tokyo Medical University targeted the CB 2 receptor and tested its role in rheumatoid arthritis. Immunochemistry testing in mice showed that CB 2 was expressed significantly more in synovial tissues from the rheumatoid joints than the tissue in osteoarthritis joints (found in areas where cartilage is prevalent such as shoulders, elbows and knees).  The Western Blot analysis was performed with the use of a CB 2 agonist (much like THC and CBD). The agonist inhibited the production of the anti-inflammatory agents interleukin-6 (IL-6), metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3), and chemokine ligand-2 (CCL-2) from its biochemical predecessor (fibroblast-like synoviocytes) which is stimulated by the cell signaling protein tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a). In summary, the study found that stimulating the CB 2 receptors inhibited the production of the autoimmune agents that attack the joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Administration of the CB 2 agonist reduced the arthritis level, inflammatory cell infiltration, bone destruction and antibody production, suggesting that CB 2 agonists could be a new therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.

While marijuana research is prevalent all over the world, the majority of doctor’s, many who believe in the healing power of marijuana, cannot endorse marijuana because of insufficient evidence. This presents the major problem of medical marijuana use for rheumatoid arthritis. Doctor’s don’t have enough concrete evidence to attest for the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana. Based on that, they face an ethical challenge by recommending marijuana treatment. Doctors can’t recommend the treatment because there isn’t enough comprehensive knowledge about marijuana, doing so violates the ethical standard of the medical practice. As more research initiates within the upcoming year, studies like the one performed at Tokyo Medical University will build on new information. The medical marijuana industry will start to break away from myth status and embrace the response from the results achieved.

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