Almost half of adults aged 65 or older have arthritis. The Center for Disease Control says arthritis and other rheumatic conditions represent a leading cause of disability among U.S. adults — and the leading cause for the past 15 years.
And since the risk of arthritis increases with age, there will only be more patients searching for effective alternative treatments for pain as the senior population grows.
Among them is Jane, a 67-year-old woman who suffers from osteoarthritis and has found relief by using cannabis.
Jane developed osteoarthritis in her knee from years of working on her feet, a condition exacerbated by the weight she gained over the past 20 years.
She uses a cane to walk and says her pain medication leaves her groggy and depressed, with no desire to leave her home. Her daughter saw the negative impacts the medication was having on her mother’s mood and gave her a topical salve containing THC and CBD. It relieved her pain enough to be able to set aside her cane when she is at home.
Seeking further non-euphoric relief, Jane explored different ratios of CBD and THC in capsule form to help with her pain (especially at night) and found a balance that not only reduced her use of pain medication, but also relieved her anxiety and depression.
Cannabis can be utilized at therapeutic levels for both pain relief and the maintenance of inflammation. Many seniors start with non-euphoric solutions like cannabis topicals, which can mean using lotions, salves, roll-ons and even medicated epsom salts for soaking or hot compresses.
Jane likes that using topicals and edibles gives her the ability to enjoy time with her family and manage her pain without grogginess — and without the smell that comes from smoking.
She isn’t alone; many patients with inflammatory arthritis have been successfully treating it with topical use and experimenting with ratios of CBD to THC in edibles. And there’s data to back up those personal experiences — research is showing that topical administration of cannabis has proven to have analgesic effects in animal models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain, especially for the control of breakthrough pain.
In fact, a study published in Rheumatology discovered that rheumatoid arthritis patients have more CB2 receptors on their cells than other arthritis patients. Recent research also found that psoriasis plaques can be treated with topicals high in CBD because the anti-inflammatory effects help reduce the plaques, without thinning the skin like a steroidal cream.
Maria Mangini is a pioneer of the medical cannabis and psychedelic research movement, and a family nurse practitioner. She says that 70 percent of the patients she consults see her for pain issues and noted a large percentage of those patients suffer from some type of arthritis.
She says osteoarthritis patients may benefit from the synergistic effects THC has with opioid receptors, creating greater pain relief with less opioid use. She added that if the joint pain is not too deep (as in hip joints), a topical medicine could prove useful in treating pain as well.
With the opioid epidemic still in full swing and the FDA’s recent warning that all non-aspirin NSAIDs put patients at increased risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure, is it any wonder that our fast-growing senior population is becoming more open to alternative therapies? Or that cannabis — one of the most effective natural medicines on Earth — is now becoming a bigger part of the conversation?