I approach cannabis with a more holistic mindset than just going to a dispensary. I really think that there’s a lot to the mind-body aspect of cannabis that can help patients with arthritis.
Arthritis is inflammation in the body and the degradation of cartilage between joints. Some bones have soft tissue between them that can break down until the bones are hitting each other. This causes lots of pain. Ailments such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia sort of flow pain throughout the body. It’s very hard to pin down and a lot of conventional drugs and techniques are used to combat these ailments. We also have ailments like gout and lupus in which the treatments are difficult and don’t quite hit the mark.
This is where my knowledge of cannabis fits.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the largest cell feedback system in the body. All our cells have ways of communicating and changing their behavior. The endocannabinoid system is the largest because it affects almost every cell in the body. It’s affecting all your immune cells and all your nervous system cells.
What’s miraculous is that when we discovered what the cannabis plant does we found that all these chemicals in the plant actually trigger the endocannabinoid system with amazing affects.
Knowing What’s Inside
The two main chemicals of cannabis are THC and CBD. They’re the main ones we’ve studied. THC is the one that gets us high. We smoke marijuana and we can feel THC in our system.
THC goes into anandamide receptor sites. Anandamide is the endocannabinoid that we produce naturally. We actually produce it when we exercise. It helps control inflammation.
So, THC mimics anandamide, it goes into our receptor sites, and it reduces the intensity of the nervous system. That’s what THC is really good for. It’s an anti-inflammatory to a certain extent.
But what’s really amazing is CBD. The other constituent of cannabis is a subtler molecule. CBD is felt less in the body and is generally considered non-psychotropic. It doesn’t have a response in the body that gets us high or stoned.
CBD primarily activates immune cells, which are inflamed in arthritis patients. People with rheumatoid arthritis have immune systems on high alert. CBD goes into the system and mimics something called 2AG. This is what we naturally produce in the endocannabinoid system. CBD mimics this and reduces inflammation. It kind of hovers outside the cell and coaxes it back to homeostasis.
I think of CBD as a therapist. Someone you talk to once a week for help. THC is more like a chiropractor that’s sort of forcing a direct action on the body.
If you know someone who has arthritis and they’re afraid of using medical marijuana or worried about getting high, they should realize that you can take very small amounts of THC and still get pain relief without cognitive changes. THC also mimics anandamide, the “runner’s high” we produce during exercise that elevates our mood.
Your Approach Matters
Here’s where I think a lot of people miss the mark when we’re talking about cannabis, arthritis, and even conventional medicine.
There’s this idea that we need to take a pill, right? Even with cannabis people can say, “Oh here, take this tablet. It’s an edible. That will make the pain go down.”
It’s really important to remember that your state of mind has a huge impact on how we perceive our pain.
If we go to a doctor or a dispensary where people say, “Here, just take this. You’ll feel better” but we don’t make a personal connection, I believe people will not benefit as much from the treatment. Particularly if we’re frustrated and our morale is really low. Cannabis is a great way of creating a one-to-one relationship where you get to know the person who’s providing you the cannabis. Someone that can be your favorite attendant at the dispensary or somebody like me who’s a cannabis consultant.
I have clients who are very frustrated with their ailments. I spend 90 minutes with them talking about their ailments, the history of their illness, their family history, and their support systems. Then we can create a holistic, three-dimensional picture of the patient and guide them through using cannabis. You don’t just give them a joint to smoke because sometimes if people are feeling depressed or anxious their immune system will be on high alert, therefore inflammation increases.
So, as practitioners, we have to engage with the client by empathizing with where they are in the moment.
That’s kind of my approach to interacting with clients. Clarifying the difference between CBD and THC, delivering CBD over a long period of time (say, 30 days), and trying to figure out a dose that’s not going to make the client too sleepy or agitated.
Self-Care Through Oils
There is a very wide spectrum of ways you can introduce cannabis to the system.
When we’re talking about arthritic joints, we’re essentially talking about the bones that are hitting each other, the lost soft tissue between the bones, and all the cells that are completely inflamed there. You can imagine CBD going into the cells and reducing the inflammation. THC goes into the nerve cells and brings the pain down, but we still have bone-on-bone friction.
That’s why I’m really a proponent of using oils. Healthy, organic, edible oils that we infuse with cannabis.
You dissolve cannabinoids into a carrier oil like olive, coconut, or sesame oil. I’ve seen people have a better affect from ingesting oils and deeply penetrating tissues over several weeks, getting it between the bones and providing some lubrication.
I also suggest that people put the oils right on their body. On your wrists, fingers, knees – the joints that are affected because we have cannabinoid receptors all over our bodies. I like coconut oil. It cools inflammation, so we can deliver that right to the knee, for example.
Remember, it’s going to slowly penetrate over a 30-day application. That’s a good thing. I’ve observed where the oil goes directly onto the skin and seems to relay a pain reduction throughout the whole knee. They haven’t done a lot of studies on this yet, it’s just what I’ve observed. It’s also what I’ve felt because I can put cannabis oil on my sore wrist and feel almost instantaneous pain relief.
I don’t want people to go out there and just say, “Oh my gosh, it’s a miracle drug that’s going to cure my grandma’s arthritis.” It’s not like that for everyone. Everyone has a completely different and unique endocannabinoid system. Where one person responds great to a topical oil (like my beloved 85-year-old client, Phyllis) others will find it doesn’t work for them as much as smoking marijuana or a tincture.
Arthritis is difficult. It’s hard to treat. But the endocannabinoid system is very well situated to treat people with inflammation and pain. The act of delivering an oil to an aching part of the body either via a loved one or yourself is a very loving, nurturing act. When we’re thinking about just popping a pill for arthritis, I want people to remember that there is a deeper, more holistic, and more intimate understanding that can occur that will help people’s pain.