Easing arthritis pain is thought to be a common reason for people to use cannabis, but there have been few statistics to back this up.
A recently published study, however, has cast some light on the subject by collecting and analysing data from FORWARD, The National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases.
The study, which was published in Arthritis Care and Research, involved over 11,000 participants who were asked about past or present cannabis use in 2014 and again in 2019. The most common types of arthritis included in the study were rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, systemic lupus erythematosus, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Details taken from the patients included other medications taken, other conditions the patients had, as well as patient reported outcomes (PROs) — i.e. how patients reported and assessed their own health and quality of life.
The main finding was that over the five-year study period there was an almost three-fold increase in people who reported using cannabis to deal with arthritis pain. In 2014, 6.3 percent of this group said they used cannabis, while in 2019 this had risen to 18.4 percent.
Overall, the majority of users reported that cannabis was an effective relief of arthritis symptoms (74 percent in 2014; 62 percent in 2019). But despite this, cannabis users also assessed themselves as having poorer health and wellbeing, including mental wellbeing, across a variety of measures.
Those who started using cannabis from 2014 to 2019 were also more likely to have new comorbid conditions including cancer and depression, were more likely to be taking weak opioids, and less likely to be on traditional analgesics and TNF inhibitors (which fight inflammation).
“This study provides early evidence of the accelerating use of cannabis in the rheumatology patient population...and likely use by those who may be less satisfied in their current health,” corresponding author Kaleb Michaud PhD, who is affiliated with the University of Nebraska and co-director of FORWARD, said.
In summarizing their research, the scientists also concluded that arthritis patients who turn to cannabis may not be having their pain management needs adequately addressed by other therapies. The research, they wrote, also highlighted the association between cannabis, opioids, and patient outcomes, and that more research was needed in this whole area.