Can medical cannabis help patients suffering from symptoms of Osteoarthritis? Find out more below. 

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a type of joint disease that primarily affects the cartilage, the smooth tissue covering the ends of bones where they meet to form joints. It is also known as degenerative joint disease or wear-and-tear arthritis. Over time, the cartilage can wear away, causing the bones to rub against each other, resulting in joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. 

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it is most common in the hands, hips, knees, and spine. It typically develops gradually over time and is more common in older adults, although it can occur at any age. Other factors that can increase the risk of osteoarthritis include obesity, injury or trauma to the joint, genetics, and repetitive joint use. There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life, such as exercise, weight loss, medication, and in some cases, surgery.

What causes it?

The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a result of a combination of factors, including:

  1. Age: Osteoarthritis is more common in older adults as the body’s ability to repair itself decreases.
  2. Genetics: A family history of osteoarthritis increases the risk of developing the condition.
  3. Obesity: Being overweight or obese can put excess pressure on the joints and increase the risk of osteoarthritis, particularly in the knees.
  4. Joint injury: Injuries or trauma to a joint can increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
  5. Repetitive use: Repetitive joint use can increase the risk of osteoarthritis in that joint, mainly if used in a way that places stress on it.

How common is it?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects millions worldwide. It is more common in older adults but can occur at any age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 32.5 million adults in the United States have osteoarthritis, which is more common in women than men. The prevalence of osteoarthritis is also higher among people with obesity, and it is more common in certain joints such as the knees, hips, and hands.

Are there types/stages?

Yes, osteoarthritis can be classified into different types or stages based on the condition’s severity and the affected joints’ location. Here are the common types of osteoarthritis:

  1. Any underlying medical condition or injury does not cause primary osteoarthritis. It usually develops due to aging and wear and tear on the joints.
  2. Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by an underlying medical condition or injury that affects the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis or a joint injury.
  3. Localized osteoarthritis: This type affects only one joint, such as the knee, hip, or hand.
  4. Generalized osteoarthritis: This type of osteoarthritis affects multiple joints throughout the body.

Osteoarthritis can also be classified into different stages based on the severity of the disease. The most commonly used classification system is the Kellgren-Lawrence grading system, which uses x-rays to evaluate the severity of osteoarthritis in the affected joint. The grading system ranges from 0 to 4, with 0 indicating no evidence of osteoarthritis and 4 indicating severe osteoarthritis. The different stages of osteoarthritis can help guide treatment decisions and provide a prognosis for the patient’s condition.

Signs & Symptoms

The following are common signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis:

  1. Pain: Pain in the affected joint is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis. The pain is usually described as a deep, aching pain that worsens with activity and improves with rest.
  2. Stiffness: Stiffness in the joints, especially in the morning or after a period of inactivity, is another common symptom of osteoarthritis.
  3. Swelling: Swelling in the affected joint is common in people with osteoarthritis. The joint may also feel warm to the touch.
  4. Limited range of motion: People with osteoarthritis may have difficulty moving the affected joint through its full range of motion.
  5. Cracking or popping sounds: A popping or cracking sound may be heard when moving the affected joint.
  6. Bone spurs may develop around the affected joint, causing additional pain and discomfort.
  7. Muscle weakness: Over time, the muscles around the affected joint may weaken, making moving harder.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis usually involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam to evaluate your joint function and range of motion. Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans may be used to confirm the diagnosis and assess the extent of joint damage.

Treatment of osteoarthritis focuses on reducing pain and improving joint function. Here are some standard treatment options:

  1. Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and topical creams may be recommended to alleviate pain and inflammation.
  2. Physical therapy: A physical therapist may design an exercise program to help strengthen the muscles around the affected joint and improve flexibility and range of motion.
  3. Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce joint stress and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
  4. Assistive devices: Braces, shoe inserts, and other assistive devices can help support the affected joint and improve function.
  5. Surgery: In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be recommended to replace the damaged joint with a prosthetic joint.

Can medical marijuana help?

Medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, is increasingly being studied as a potential treatment for osteoarthritis. Some studies have suggested that medical cannabis may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that could help reduce pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

However, there is still limited research on the effectiveness and safety of medical cannabis for osteoarthritis. The use of medical cannabis is also not legal in all states or countries, and it may not be a suitable treatment option for everyone.

If you want to use medical cannabis for osteoarthritis, it is essential to talk to your healthcare provider. They can discuss the potential benefits and risks and help you decide if it is an appropriate treatment option. They can also guide you on the legal and regulatory requirements for obtaining medical cannabis in your area.

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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