There was a time in Ron Lev’s life when the pain of his rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was so severe that he felt that nothing could help him.
“You’re just standing still because it’s too painful to stand,” says Lev, 44. “Everything you can imagine doing is painful. Even eating is painful. Driving a car, opening a door, turning the ignition.”
After decades of treating his RA with biologic drugs and steroids, Lev was on the verge of accepting pain as his “new normal.” However, he had heard of other people with the disease using cannabinoids (CBD) to relieve his pain, and four years ago he decided to try it as well.
“At the time, I had been taking steroids for 23 years,” he says. Some of the long-term side effects I had experienced with the medication included thinning skin, swelling, and weight gain, among others. “I tried unsuccessfully to remove the steroids, but the pain was so severe … I kept using them.”
Within months of starting with cannabinoids, with the guidance and direction of his rheumatologist, Lev not only got rid of the steroids, but was also able to extend his biological infusions every couple of months to every 6 months. Now, she only gets infusions once a year.
After seeing the enormous pain relief that CBD personally offered him, Lev set up his own CBD company, Reclaim Labs, in 2018.
Stories like Lev’s are becoming more common among people with RA and other autoimmune disorders. According to a 2019 survey by the Arthritis Foundation, 29 percent of people with arthritis say they currently use CBD, mostly in liquid or topical form, while nearly 80 percent were using CBD, had used it. in the past or thought of using it. .
There is also growing scientific evidence, including a study published in September 2020 in the journal Cell disease and deaththat cannabinoids can relieve the pain of RA and act as an effective anti-inflammatory agent, with few, if any, side effects, unlike anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids or biological options.
“We are seeing more organized and well-done research on the benefits of cannabinoids and CBD when it comes to RA,” said Anca Askanase, MD, a rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine and director of rheumatology clinical trials at the University Medical Center. from Columbia to New. York City. “As a culture, we have adopted the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, and we are seeing that it helps relieve pain, especially with patients with RA.”
Needs research on CBD in RA
Aside from the positive news, Dr. Askanase warns month studies does not necessarily mean enough studies.
“We’re doing things backwards: it’s been approved before we have all the research to support it,” he says. “My biggest concern is that we need to understand and use cannabinoids in a more organized and conscious way instead of just saying, ‘It’s legal, it seems to work, just take one.’
One of the reasons for hesitation by Askanase and his fellow rheumatologists is that while cannabinoids can significantly reduce pain and inflammation, they can also cause other side effects when smoked. For example, people with RA may be at increased risk of developing lung and heart problems, which can be exacerbated by smoking marijuana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another concern, Askanase says, is the possible addictive nature of the drug. “We’ve learned that most things that act on the brain like cannabinoids have addictive potential,” he explains. “This is something that needs to be further investigated.”
The Truth About CBD Oil and RA
However, there is no denying that, despite the lack of research, people with RA report that CBD has significantly decreased their pain.
A survey published in November 2019 in the Psychoactive Drug Magazine found that 80% of respondents who took legalized cannabis to relieve pain described it as “very or extremely helpful.” Among respondents taking over-the-counter pain medications, 82 percent reported reducing or discontinuing the use of these medications. Among respondents taking opioid painkillers, 88 percent reported reducing or stopping the use of these drugs.
“I tried for years to stop taking steroids and it’s incredibly hard to do,” Lev explains. “CBD is the only thing that has helped me quit steroids and relieve my pain.”
In addition, there is research showing that cannabis has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, which can help address inflammation behind RA. According to a review published in May 2019 by the magazine Current opinion in Rheumatologyresearchers have found that “cannabinoids show anti-inflammatory effects by activating type 2 cannabinoid receptors, which decrease cytokine production” (cytokines are proteins that are known to be involved in inflammation).
The authors concluded that cannabis may be a suitable option for treating RA.
While Askanase is among a growing number of rheumatologists who are interested in seeing more research on CBD in RA, it also warns that it should not be used as a stand-alone treatment.
“We need to make a very clear effort to say that cannabinoids are complementary interventions, but that they should not replace traditional disease-modifying therapies that we currently have available,” he explains. If you are considering using CBD as a complementary treatment option, he says, you should look for medical marijuana dispensaries, which have some medical supervision and control over the products and the amount used.