Can Medical Marijuana Improve Symptoms of Rheumatic Disease?

Researchers evaluate impact of medical cannabis on conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

There is not nearly enough scientific research being conducted on the effects of marijuana on rheumatic diseases, according to a report published in Arthritis Care & Research.

Researchers from McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada searched multiple scientific reporting databases in order to assess the efficacy, tolerability and safety of both phytocannabinoids and synthetocannibinoids in the management of rheumatic diseases.

The researchers used Medline, Embase and Central dating back to the 1940s to pull randomized controlled trials with pain, sleep, quality of life, tolerability and safety studies on cannabinoids on rheumatic diseases.

They found 4 eligible short term studies (published in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012) which included 201 patients: 58 with rheumatoid arthritis, 71 with fibromyalgia and 74 with osteoarthritis.

Medical Cannabis and Rheumatic Diseases

The study authors learned that cannabinoids had a statistically significant effect on pain in two studies, on sleep in two studies, and improved quality of life in one study. However, the osteoarthritis study was terminated early, with those researchers citing futility reasons. The McGill team added that there was a high for all three of the completed studies.

About half of the patients reported some side effects, namely dizziness, cognitive problems and drowsiness. There were no serious adverse effects reported during any of the studies’ durations.

“Extremely small sample sizes, short study duration, heterogeneity of rheumatic conditions and products, and absence of study of herbal cannabis, allow for only limited conclusions for the effects of cannabinoids in rheumatic conditions,” the authors concluded. “Pain relief and effect on sleep may have some potential therapeutic benefit, but with considerable mild to moderate adverse events. There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend cannabinoid treatments for management of rheumatic diseases pending further study.”

Questions Persist on the Benefits of Medical Marijuana

The authors added that while there are anecdotal stories about positive effects of cannabinoids as a treatment for rheumatic diseases, there were unable to find documented studies examining the use of herbal cannabis on rheumatic diseases.

“In the context that rheumatic diseases, including osteoarthritis, are very common, these studies provide limited information, and we cannot draw any conclusions regarding efficacy or side effects—especially long term side effects—associated with cannabinoid therapy,” study leader Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, MD, explained in a press release. “Therefore, based on current scientific study, rheumatologists cannot recommend the use of cannabinoids in general, and medical marijuana in particular, as a therapeutic option for rheumatology patients. The scientific community must call for further urgent research to determine the true role of cannabinoids in rheumatic conditions.”