Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks normal tissue in the body, causing inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. Doctors promote anti-rheumatic drugs, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, and surgery as traditional treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.
Recent studies have found that some of the compounds in certain strains of the cannabis plant can help manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including:
- White Widow
- White Berry
- Sour Diesel
- Jack Herer
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How Cannabis Could Help Rheumatoid Arthritis
Since rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disorder, anti-inflammatory treatments can help manage symptoms.
Cannabis, particularly cannabinoids and terpenes, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (painkilling) properties. These work together to give cannabis the potential to treat various autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis.
Two of the most essential cannabinoids in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). In various studies that used rodent models, CBD showed anti-inflammatory activity by reducing the production and release of inflammatory molecules and modulating the immune system. These cannabinoids activate the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body, including in the synovium of rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Unlike THC, CBD is not intoxicating, meaning CBD-dominant cannabis strains won’t provide as much of a “high.” The anti-inflammatory power of THC is 20 times that of aspirin and two times the anti-inflammatory power of hydrocortisone. At the same time, CBD is thought to be hundreds of times more anti-inflammatory than aspirin. A study showed that people with arthritis prefer indica or hybrid strains.
Terpenes (the chemicals in the cannabis plant that make up the flavors and aromas of the strain) synergize with the cannabinoids to generate the “entourage effect,” which refers to the compounds in cannabis working together to enhance their overall impact on the body. Certain terpenes have painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties, including myrcene, linalool, beta-caryophyllene, pinene, and limonene.
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Best Ways to Consume Cannabis for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Medical cannabis administration routes for rheumatoid arthritis include smoking or vaping, consuming edibles or tinctures (sublingual), applying a topical gel, and using oromucosal extracts.
For immediate relief from arthritic pain, you should smoke or vaporize cannabis.
You could also try using a topical product to rub onto your swollen and painful joints. This was shown to be successful in rat arthritis models. Transdermal application of CBD reduced joint swelling and entrance of immune cells into the tissue around the joints. An additional benefit of topical products is that they won’t cause gastrointestinal side effects that can occur from oral consumption. But keep in mind that topical products will take longer to impact than smoking.
You could consume edibles if you are not in too much pain. Like topical products, edibles are relatively slow-acting. However, they can still be powerful and have a long-lasting effect, which could appeal more to people suffering from chronic pain (as arthritic pain generally is). Many people choose tinctures over edibles, as they can have powerful effects, but not quite as powerful as edibles, and have a quicker onset time.
Oromucosal extracts of a cannabis-based medicine (a spray containing THC and CBD) tested in people with rheumatoid arthritis also significantly decreased disease activity.
Overall, the single best ingestion method is a personal choice and depends on how quickly you need pain relief. However, vaping and smoking, followed by consuming edibles or tinctures, remains the most common method of ingesting cannabis in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Best Strains for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Based on anecdotal reports, some cannabis cultivars (strains) could help manage symptoms of RA.
White Widow is a famous indica-dominant hybrid strain with a balanced CBD ratio to THC. This gives these cannabinoids the ability to synergize, produce the entourage effect and subsequently manage the chronic pain people with rheumatoid arthritis experience.
It also contains terpenes, such as pinene, contributing to this effect.
White Berry, a hybrid indica/sativa strain made from the White Widow and Blueberry strains, is known to help reduce chronic pain in inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Like White Widow, White Berry contains terpenes such as myrcene and pinene, which help make this one of the best strains for rheumatoid arthritis.
Sour Diesel is a fast-acting strain also known to reduce chronic pain. It is important to note that it has a high THC content of around 18% and a lower CBD content of 2%, which means that using this strain will cause you to experience a “high.”
If you are new to cannabis, this might not be the best strain to start with because the psychoactive effect may be too strong.
Jack Herer is another hybrid strain between the cannabis plants Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. Jack Herer has a THC content of between 18% and 23% and is a good choice for quickly getting on top of your pain.
It also contains several terpenes with anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties, such as myrcene and beta-caryophyllene.
Cannatonic is a widely used strain of cannabis for medical purposes. Thanks to its high CBD and low THC content, any “high” you experience should be minor and only last a short time (although you can still feel intoxicated if you use enough).
Cannatonic has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it suitable for treating several inflammatory medical conditions, with rheumatoid arthritis being just one of these.
Harlequin is a sativa-dominant strain that is also vastly popular. It has a THC content of 10%, CBD content of 12%, and myrcene terpenes, making it an excellent cannabis strain for managing rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation-related chronic pain.
The THC level means that Harlequin is a suitable cannabis choice if you don’t want to experience a strong high. Although it does have some psychoactive effects, these are reported as mellow and mild, so it’s still considered an effective medical cannabis strain.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can cannabis help arthritis?
There is potential for cannabis to help the swollen, inflamed, and painful joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Although most specific evidence has focused on animal studies, it is known that in humans, cannabis can help manage chronic pain, a defining feature of rheumatoid arthritis.
Is cannabis more effective than a pain killer for rheumatoid arthritis?
Whether cannabis is a more effective treatment than painkillers for rheumatoid arthritis has not been determined, and both may be effective. However, a study has concluded that CBD and THC have greater anti-inflammatory properties than aspirin and hydrocortisone. Compared to more potent analgesic painkillers like opioids, medical cannabis has fewer adverse severe side effects.