Researchers still don’t know a lot about how marijuana affects your body. But there is substantial evidence that it can help relieve long-term pain. And pain is a major symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Here’s what’s known so far about how medical marijuana and a marijuana extract called CBD (cannabidiol) might affect RA.
Benefits for RA
The Cannabis sativa plant has more than 100 chemicals that can affect your body and mind. The two that scientists know the most about are THC and CBD.
THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is what gets you high when you smoke, vape, or eat marijuana. CBD doesn’t affect your brain that way. For that reason, some people prefer the oil form of CBD for medical uses.
The federal ban on marijuana and CBD means studies on humans have been few. So researchers don’t know for sure that cannabis eases RA symptoms. But the results from several very small studies suggest that in people with rheumatic diseases, including RA and osteoarthritis, it may help:
- Curb morning pain (but not the overall level of pain)
- Improve sleep
- Lower inflammation in joints (but not joint stiffness)
Some lab testing suggests that cannabinoids may help tamp down the body’s immune response. But the studies have been limited to animals, not humans.
Doctors will need more proof before they can recommend cannabis products to treat rheumatic diseases. For example, we know very little about the effects on RA from smoking marijuana or other uses of herbal marijuana.
Is Cannabis Right for You?
The best way to answer this is to ask your doctor. They can tell you about possible side effects and drug interactions, legal considerations, and which form and at which dose may help you the most.
More than half of the states have legalized marijuana for medical use. More than a dozen other states allow limited medical uses of CBD.
The FDA doesn’t regulate marijuana or CBD, so you might not know exactly what’s in the products you buy. One batch of pot or edible marijuana may have a much higher or lower amount of THC than another, or affect you differently. CBD also can be unpredictable.
Cannabis can affect you mentally and physically. THC can impair driving, so you shouldn’t get behind the wheel for at least 8 hours after you take it. Smoking or vaping (inhaling) marijuana will hit you more quickly than if you eat it. It’s also not good for your lungs or respiratory system.
CBD side effects are usually mild or moderate. They can include:
Medical marijuana has similar side effects, including:
- Increased appetite
- Dissociation (feeling disconnected)
- Dry eyes
Where to Get It
Depending on your state, you may need to buy medical marijuana and CBD at specific dispensaries or pharmacies from approved vendors. Your doctor may need to certify that you have a condition that may benefit from marijuana.
Marijuana is available it many forms, like pills, prepared foods, teas, nasal sprays, and as something you smoke or vape.