Living with arthritis or other painful inflammatory conditions can be incredibly tough. From arthritis to Crohn's disease, these inflammatory issues don't just affect your body physically; they can also bring about emotional and practical challenges too.
While many health conditions have some form of inflammation, other health conditions, like arthritis and Crohn's disease are defined by their inflammatory symptoms. Although conventional inflammation and arthritis treatments, including corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs, have long been relied upon to manage inflammatory issues, they can often come with unwanted side effects and may even weaken the immune system.
Medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), is gaining recognition for its potential to alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory conditions in some patients through a more natural and holistic approach.
Read on to find out how medical cannabis may help manage arthritis and inflammatory conditions in some patients, understand the risk of medicinal cannabis treatments and how you can explore options for medicinal cannabis treatments in Australia.
What are inflammatory conditions?
Inflammatory conditions, also known as inflammatory disorders or diseases, are a group of medical conditions characterised by chronic or recurrent inflammation in various parts of the body.
Inflammation is a natural and necessary response of the immune system to fight infections, heal injuries, and protect the body from harm. However, in inflammatory conditions, this inflammatory response becomes dysregulated, leading to prolonged and often excessive inflammation. This can result in damage to tissues and organs over time.
Chronic inflammatory diseases are extremely common and are said to be responsible for more than 50% of deaths worldwide.
Types of inflammatory conditions
While many health conditions involve inflammation, not all conditions are considered “inflammatory diseases". Inflammation in general is the body’s immune system’s response to an irritant, such as an injury, chemical, or a germ. The five signs of inflammation include:
- Loss of function
An inflammatory condition however is where inflammation plays a major role in the disease. These conditions are marked by long-term or recurring inflammation that can affect different organs or tissues.
Inflammatory conditions can affect various parts of the body, and their treatment often depends on the specific type and severity of inflammation involved.
Chronic inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and asthma involve long-term inflammation in specific organs or systems. Acute (short-term) inflammation, on the other hand, is a temporary response to injuries or infections, such as in the case of a sprained ankle or a respiratory infection.
Medicinal Cannabis and Inflammatory Conditions
Medicinal cannabis is increasingly being explored as a potential treatment for inflammatory conditions, with growing interest in its ability to potentially help modulate the body's inflammatory responses, alleviate symptoms, and improve the quality of life for some individuals affected by chronic inflammation-related disorders.
Here are some inflammatory conditions that may therapeutically benefit from medicinal cannabis:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory condition that primarily affects the joints. It leads to chronic pain, swelling, and joint damage. Medicinal cannabis, particularly CBD (cannabidiol), may help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in affected joints in some patients.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Conditions like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis fall under IBD, causing inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and weight loss. Medicinal cannabis has shown promise in managing symptoms and reducing inflammation in the gut for some patients.
- Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a skin condition characterised by the formation of thick, red, and scaly patches due to inflammation. Topical cannabis-based products, such as creams or ointments containing CBD or THC, may provide relief by reducing skin inflammation in some patients.
- Other dermatological Conditions: Some skin conditions, like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and hidradenitis suppurativa, involve chronic inflammation. Topical cannabis-based products, especially those containing CBD, may have a role in reducing skin inflammation and improving symptoms for some patients.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Multiple sclerosis is a neuroinflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Medicinal cannabis, particularly oral medications containing THC and CBD, has been investigated for its potential to manage MS symptoms, including pain, muscle spasms, and spasticity.
- Osteoarthritis: While osteoarthritis primarily involves joint degeneration rather than autoimmune inflammation, it often presents with inflammation and pain. Medicinal cannabis, particularly CBD, may offer pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects for some individuals with osteoarthritis.
It's important to remember that the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in managing these inflammatory conditions can vary from person to person.
Medical cannabis is also an unapproved therapeutic good in Australia and should be approached cautiously. Make sure you discuss any potential natural therapy treatment plans with knowledgeable health professionals to ensure that medicinal cannabis is right for you and your healthcare goals.
How Medicinal Cannabis may help fight inflammation
Medicinal cannabis contains natural compounds called cannabinoids that help modulate various bodily functions. Two major cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), may help reduce inflammation in several ways. Medicinal cannabis may have:
Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Both THC and CBD, the two primary cannabinoids found in cannabis, have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties in preclinical and some clinical studies. They can interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating immune responses and inflammation.
THC's Anti-Inflammatory Actions:
- Targeting Receptors: THC interacts with special receptors in our body called CB1 and CB2. Think of these receptors like switches. When THC activates them, it can calm down the body's response to inflammation.
- Balancing Chemicals: THC helps balance the levels of chemicals in our body, like cytokines. These chemicals are like messengers that tell our immune system to fight off inflammation. THC helps keep them in check so we don't have too much inflammation.
- Controlling Signals: THC can also affect the signals in our brain and body that make inflammation worse. By slowing down these signals, THC can reduce inflammation.
CBD's Anti-Inflammatory Actions:
- Helping Indirectly: CBD doesn't directly activate the same switches as THC. Instead, it indirectly boosts another natural substance in our body called anandamide, which also helps control inflammation through similar switches.
- Calming Pain and Inflammation: CBD can also calm down pain and inflammation by affecting different switches called TRPV1 receptors. Think of these as traffic lights that can slow down the body's response to pain and inflammation.
- Less Inflammatory Chemicals: CBD can lower the production of inflammatory chemicals like cytokines and chemokines. It's like turning down the volume on inflammation.
- Balancing Immune Cells: CBD can help our immune cells work better, like managing a team. This helps regulate our body's responses and reduces inflammation.
Essentially, both THC and CBD act like helpful controllers in our body, dialling down the response to inflammation and keeping things in balance. However, it's important to remember that their effects can be different for each person and may vary depending on the situation.
THC, CBD and Pain Relief:
Inflammation often causes pain, and medical cannabis has been known to have analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. By potentially reducing pain, medical cannabis may indirectly help manage discomfort associated with inflammation.
While medicinal cannabis may offer therapeutic benefits for some people, it may also have side effects and interactions with other medications. As such, it should be used under medical supervision and guidance.
While traditional medications for inflammation have helped improve inflammation symptoms for many patients, they come with their fair share of drawbacks too due to their risks, limitations, and varying degrees of effectiveness.
One common inflammation treatment is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin. While NSAIDs can effectively reduce pain and inflammation, they can also cause side effects like gastrointestinal problems and bleeding. Long-term use of NSAIDs may lead to more severe issues like gastric ulcers and cardiovascular complications.
Another common treatment for inflammation conditions are corticosteroids, which are powerful anti-inflammatory medications. While these can be highly effective in suppressing inflammation, corticosteroids can also come with unwanted effects such as weight gain, mood swings, and immune system suppression when used over extended periods.
Immunosuppressive drugs, commonly prescribed for autoimmune conditions with inflammation symptoms, can also affect the body's ability to fight infections, leading to an increased risk of illnesses.
Because of these challenges, there is a growing interest in exploring complementary and natural therapies, such as medicinal cannabis, dietary modifications, herbal supplements, or even lifestyle changes, to manage inflammation and minimise the risks of traditional inflammation drugs.
Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Inflammatory Conditions:
While not everyone will experience adverse effects, it's important to be aware of potential risks associated with medical cannabis for inflammatory conditions:
- Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis might lead to cognitive effects, including impaired memory and concentration.
- Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Side effects, though potentially fewer than with traditional medications, still warrant careful consideration.
- Psychoactive Effects of THC: The psychoactive nature of THC may not be appropriate for people with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you navigate possible risks and make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis could be right for you.
The Wrap Up
Living with inflammatory conditions, like types of arthritis, are challenging to live with and treat effectively long-term. Traditional options like NSAIDs, which can sometimes cause stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal problems, and corticosteroids, known for side effects like weight gain and mood swings, have their downsides. For some patients, natural therapies, such as medicinal cannabis, may offer a natural way to help to relieve inflammation and inflammatory pain.
What is the best natural medicine for inflammation?
The best natural medicine for inflammation may vary depending on individual preferences and needs. Medicinal cannabis is emerging as a promising option for some patients. It contains compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which have shown anti-inflammatory properties. CBD, in particular, is known for its potential to reduce inflammation and manage various inflammatory conditions in some patients without the psychoactive effects associated with THC.
Additionally, natural remedies such as turmeric, ginger, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, and green tea have also demonstrated anti-inflammatory benefits. The choice of the best natural medicine for inflammation should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider, considering the specific condition and the individual's overall health.
Can rheumatoid arthritis be treated naturally?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be managed and its symptoms alleviated through natural treatments and lifestyle adjustments. While there's no known cure, natural approaches may help reduce inflammation and pain associated with RA.
Medicinal cannabis, particularly CBD, is gaining attention for its potential anti-inflammatory effects and pain relief, offering a natural alternative for RA management. Other effective methods can be adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in foods like fatty fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Regular exercise, particularly low-impact activities like swimming and yoga, can also improve joint function and reduce stiffness.
Additionally, supplements like fish oil and turmeric, which have anti-inflammatory properties, may provide relief. Some individuals also explore natural remedies like acupuncture and meditation to manage pain and stress associated with RA. Remember, each patient responds differently to natural medicine and it’s important to speak with a qualified doctor to understand the risks and benefits for your individual situation.
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The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.
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