The Big Debate: Medical Marijuana for Arthritis and Chronic Pain – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck


The medical use of marijuana has been a hotly debated and highly politicized topic in recent years. In many circles, it is touted for naturally alleviating symptoms of a variety of medical conditions including, but not limited to, arthritis and chronic pain. In other circles, it is frowned upon as a gateway drug that is likely to be abused, and, to some, a moral abomination.

In many countries, the use of marijuana is legal and widely accepted, and, in the United States, it is just beginning to become legalized in certain states for medical use only. According to the Americans for Safe Access and Marijuana Policy Project organization, the use of cannabis (for medical reasons ONLY) has been endorsed by numerous professional organizations, some of which include the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Public Health Association, The American Public Health Association, and the American Nurses Association. Its use is supported by such leading medical publications as The New England Journal of Medicine and other publications and, of course, by many marijuana advocacy organizations

But – that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with it. Over the years, the FDA repeatedly doubted its medical benefit, but multiple studies have shown that it can, in fact, help with various conditions ranging from glaucoma and anxiety, to chemo-induced nausea and cancer pain, and more. 

Despite generally being written off by the FDA & DEA, in 1999, Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, conducted a study that found marijuana to be “moderately to well-suited for particular conditions,” including those listed above. 

This is just one of many studies showing the benefit of medical marijuana. According to the organization Americans for Safe Access, “Between 1840 and 1900, European and American medical journals published more than 100 articles on the therapeutic use of the drug known then as Cannabis Indica (or Indian hemp) and now simply as cannabis. Today, new studies are being published in peer-reviewed journals that demonstrate cannabis has medical value in treating patients with serious illnesses such as AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chronic pain.”Image

One might ask why there’s such concern when so many studies have proven it to be useful? According to the FDA and other government organizations like the DEA, these studies aren’t enough to prove its medical efficacy. The DEA states that, “adequate and well-controlled studies on the medical efficacy of medical cannabis do not exist,” and many conservative groups are against its use for moral reasons. After all, marijuana and its components and/or derivatives have been largely labeled as “gateway drugs” that can potentially cause users to become addicted, eventually moving on to stronger, and harsher drugs that are well-documented to be far more dangerous. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that steps aren’t being taken to use marijuana for medical purposes. It is illegal on the federal level, but has already been legalized on the state level in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, Montana, Michigan, Colorado, California, Main, Arizona, Vermont, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island, and many other states in the US have pieces of legislation on the table to potentially do the same. 

There are also pharmaceutical companies that are trying to capitalize by developing cannabis-based products, such as Sativex, by British pharma company, GW. Sativex is a cannabis mouth-spray that is currently seeking FDA approval for cancer pain and multiple sclerosis. Sativex was also evaluated for efficacy for arthritis.  According to ProCon.org

“Rheumatology reported in a Jan. 2006 article titled “Preliminary Assessment of The Efficacy, Tolerability and Safety of A Cannabis-based Medicine (Sativex) in The Treatment of Pain Caused By Rheumatoid Arthritis,” by D.R. Blake et al.: ‘In comparison with placebo, the CBM [cannabis-based medicine] produced statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, quality of sleep….

In the first ever controlled trial of a CBM in RA [rheumatoid arthritis], a significant analgesic effect was observed and disease activity was significantly suppressed following Sativex treatment.'”

Other marijuana-based pharmaceuticals have been developed such as Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone), which are synthetic versions in pill form that are available by prescription for AIDS patients and cancer patients, but many wonder if the synthetic versions are as beneficial as it is in its natural form — after all, the “natural” and holistic part of marijuana is part of its appeal for many, who don’t want to put more drugs into their bodies.

But would it help with arthritis? Aside from the studied mentioned above, there is evidence to indicate medical marijuana/cannabis use for various forms of arthritis and rheumatic disease.

Pain Management of America states that, point blank, “medical marijuana is an effective treatment for arthritis pain and inflammation.”  Health.com did an article on a Rhode Island resident who had RA. His name is Steve, and he grows it himself. He said he, “grows one plant — marijuana — specifically to relieve RA pain and discomfort.

“If my pain is at a 10, it will take it down to a 6 or 6.5,” he says. “I’m an old-man weight lifter. After I smoke, I am able to work my shoulders and arms to keep my joints healthy. It gives me the desire and ability to get through a workout.”

Steve has had permission to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes since 2006. He smokes it and cooks it in butter (for baking) and makes THC-containing solutions called tinctures (which can be added to foods and drinks) for himself and five other patients with various medical conditions. His home state is 1 of 16, along with the District of Columbia, where marijuana is permitted for medicinal use.”

According to an article in Huffington Post, “Cannabis may be useful for people with RA and other chronic pain conditions because it can alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and promote sleep. But unlike other pain-causing conditions, such as osteoarthritis, RA is associated with a higher risk of lung problems and heart attacks. (RA is an autoimmune condition that attacks the joints and causes multiple health problems.)

It’s not clear if smoking marijuana is a relatively safe pain reliever for people with RA, or if it could increase the risk of RA-associated conditions. And if cannabis is safe, it’s still debatable whether it’s safer to take it as a pill or mouth spray rather than smoking it. Smoking marijuana raises the heart rate and one study found that heart-attack risk rises fivefold in the hour after lighting up, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Medical marijuana remains controversial — and thus under-studied — in part because it is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the U.S.

ImageHow marijuana works

There are hundreds of chemicals in marijuana, but the best known is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is what produces the high that comes with smoking or eating products made from marijuana. 

But THC also binds with receptors in the brain that produce an analgesic affect. It may also reduce anxiety experienced by some people dealing with chronic pain.

Marijuana is typically smoked, which produces the most rapid delivery into the bloodstream, says Kathryn Cunningham, Ph.D., director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston.”

As you can see, like most medical drugs out there today, there are pros and cons to using marijuana. Every medication we take has a risk/benefit ratio, and, the potential for side effects. Medical marijuana is no different, but, appears to have potentially less risk for side effects or long-term damage than traditional meds. That being said, the lack of definitive evidence either way is why the FDA, DEA – and maybe even your doctor – are skeptical or, at the very least, hesitant.

But advocates for “mmj” as it is often referred to online, say that any risks or potential side effects are worth it. “Cannabis has also been shown to have powerful immune-modulation and anti-inflammatory properties,[23-26] suggesting that it could play a role not just in symptom management but treatment of arthritis,” says Americans for Safe Access. They have a whole section on medical marijuana and arthritis, here. You can also read more from a 2005 study, published in Rheumatology, and featured in Medical News Today, here, that states that “The first study to use a cannabis-based medicine (CBM) for treating rheumatoid arthritis has found that it has a significant effect on easing pain and on suppressing the disease.” 

With all of that being said, the fact remains that marijuana remains the most illicitly abused illegal drug in America, and we certainly aren’t the only country with this same marijuana debate. 

DrugAbuse.gov says that “Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States. After a period of decline in the last decade, its use has generally increased among young people since 2007, corresponding to a diminishing perception of the drug’s risks. More teenagers are now current (past-month) smokers of marijuana than of cigarettes, according to annual survey data,” and that, “Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a per-son’s existing problems worse. In fact, heavy marijuana users generally re-port lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relation-ship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers who came from similar back-grounds. For example, marijuana use is associated with a higher likelihood of dropping out from school. Several studies also associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.

Research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory persists after the acute effects of the drug wear off; when marijuana use begins in adolescence, the effects may persist for many years. Research from different areas is converging on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative impact on the structure and function of their brains,” so you can see why there are strong proponents on both sides of the great marijuana debate.

If it is legal in your state, and you have been prescribed marijuana for your arthritis pain, we’d love for you to leave a comment and share your experience. Likewise, if you are against it, or live in an area where the use of marijuana is not legalized, we’d like to hear your thoughts, too.


Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck


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34 thoughts on “The Big Debate: Medical Marijuana for Arthritis and Chronic Pain – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. Nice piece Ashley.I live in Holland, and it legaal over here, but i have my doubts. You can’t buy it on every streetcorner and not everybody is getting high al day! I treid marijuana wen is was a teenager, i didn’t like it. Never did it again. I have RA and Fibro and i really want to try marijuana for the pain. But for me, it is a big step to og into a coffeeshop, buy it and smoke/eat or drink(tea) it.. You can get is also trough the rheumie of familydocter, but not al docters are know the benefits or how to use it or want to give you. I have seen the bad side of marijuana and that is what is keeping me to make the step of trying it for my pain……

    • there are now types of marijuana being developed that don’t get you high, so you can just enjoy the benefits of the chemical cbd that is responsible for most of the pain relief. You should research on the web about low thc , high cbd medicines. hope this helps.

      • Thc the part that gets you high reduces tumors and helps with cancer and a lot of other things as well.

        (-)-[delta 1]-3,4-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol (most active cannabinoid)
        (-)-[delta 6]-3,4-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol
        tetrahydrocannabitriol (aka cannabitriol)
        cannabidiolic acid
        cannabinol (forms after plant dies)
        THC acids A and B (inactive unless smoked)

        Minor constituents:

        cannabigerolic acid
        cannabichromenic acid
        cannabicyclol (aka cannabipinol)
        cannabicyclolic acid
        cannabielsoic acids A and B
        cannabinolic acid (neutral cannabinoid)
        2-oxo-[delta 3]-tetrahydrocannabinol
        cannabigerol monomethyl ether
        cannabidiol monomethyl ether
        cannabinol methyl ether
        propylcannabidiol (aka cannabidivarol & cannabidivarin)
        propylcannabinol (aka cannabivarol & cannabivarin)
        propyl-[delta 1]-THC (aka [delta 1]-tetrahydrocannabivarol & tetrahydrocannabivarin)
        methylcannabidiol (aka cannabidiorcol)
        methylcannabinol (aka cannabiorcol)
        methyl-[delta 1]-THC (aka [delta 1]-tetrahydrocannabiorcol)
        [delta 1]-tetrahydrocannabivarolic acid

        Nitrogen-containing compounds:

        L-isoleucine betaine
        cannabisativine (alkaloid found in the roots)

        There a lot of good in there and your cutting yourself short by just focusing on cbd

  2. I live in Maryland where it is not legal as of yet. I have used it in the past and find that it does help with my psoriatic arthritis. I feel better on mj than i do when taking pain killers. I have to keep getting stronger pain meds because i build up a tolerance to them and ive never had to increase how much mj i smoke to get the same pain relief.

  3. Good balanced article Ashley. I never smoked dope and I grew up in New Zealand (the current pothead capital of the world) but if it is going to help people with RA and other medical problems then let those who want to try it do so. When I was a boy my Mum used to say “everything in moderation” and I have no doubt that applies with this situation.

  4. This shows that the two medicinal plants marijuana and cannabis has no guarantee for being effective for Arthritis pain relief.

    • I got the a different feeling from this article. The reason I read it was because I have recently developed RA and it hurts. My older brother has had it for 3 years and has spent 10’s of thousands of dollars and is still not finding help. In fact the perscription medications that he has been using have turned him into an old man overnight. He often stops taking their meds because it is killing him. So I am trying to find a more natural path to help me. I don’t like the idea of smoking it, and this article has been a great source of information reguarding smoking vs other means of absorption.

  5. Julian, all you need to do is do a Google search for arthritis treatment from cannabis (by the way, cannabis and marijuana are the same plant, just 2 different names). There are many reports of arthritis patients successfully reducing pain by using cannabis. Specifically for pain like arthritis, a salve or topical spray infused with cannabis may work even better. But for other diseases, either smoking or vaporizing the flowers or concentrates or even eating a small amount of cannabis-infused food would prove beneficial.

    More and more people are beginning to understand the medical benefits of using cannabis. The misguided fear of “addiction” is slowly starting to fade from the general public. With 2 states now having legalized recreational use, it’s only a matter of time before more states follow suit.

  6. i live in a state where it is not legal but i duffer from ra and fibro also and so did my dad that died at the age of 49 and his ra was horrible at the time he was goung to drs before all of this debate recently his dr then told him to try mj but not to tell anyone he told him that so the drs i think knew then it would help it should be made available hell alcohol is thats the drug they should ban ive never heard of anyone killing somebody driving under the influence of mj luke alcohol and i hate takung meds because of the bad side effects so if mj coyld help and not hurt other things like the meds do then we should he able to get it

  7. The DEA excuse that we don’t have enough research is nonsense. There has been plenty of research, but unfortunately it has not been recognized by our federal agencies. The National Institute of Drug Abuse- NIDA- is the gatekeeper for all federal research on marijuana and regularly refuses to permit research that would potentially show medical efficacy.
    “As the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use,” said Shirley Simson, a spokeswoman for the drug abuse institute, known as NIDA. “We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”
    NIDA funding is NOT the issue. As the only federally approved source of research material they block research simply by refusing to SELL marijuana from their facility at University of Mississippi.

  8. My daughter lives in Ohio and suffers constantly. She has tried all the approved meds for psoratic arthritis without much improvement. We would give anything to see Ohio approve Cannabis for pain–it so hard to see this young mom struggling to take care of her family.

  9. I hate words like controversial and debate when it comes to certain things. When it comes to cannabis there is none. It obvious that it should be legalized immediately.

    Its still illegal only because of money, special interest, lobbyist and corporations and of course the status quo

    Anyone who has used cannabis with any regularity will tell you that it is the best thing since sliced bread.

    There isn’t any wonder behind the pharmaceutical versions of it. It is known that they are less effective.

    Let alone the fact that the war on drugs is a complete failure

    There’s also the fact that hemp is illegal and it has nothing to do with marijuana and that is a whole billion dollar industry that we aren’t using.

    Any negative effects for cannabis is a moot point. Nothing on this planet can help cure, treat or manage as many conditions as this natural plant with so little contraindications.

    Oh and guess what your body has a Endocannabinoid system

    Its the governments fault for being stupid and trying to make nature illegal and something that is already apart of your body.

    I have psoriasis and most likely will be diagnose with the arthritis version of it soon;. Which basically what I think it is and my doctor’s prime suspect is. It helps my pain and I don’t care that it is illegal

    My dad has stenosis and other chronic debilitating pain conditions for over 8 years.that have left him unable to work and very limited. He would definitely try it if it was legal
    but we all are living with the fact that our idiotic government has banned this miracle plant since 1937 not including the tax act that was placed on it earlier.

    • Thank you, and spread the message as you seem to be able to translate your meditation into words on paper…A.V.S

    • This article is neither for nor against the usage of medical marijuana. The FDA and DEA have cited that there is not enough definitive evidence. That is not necessarily my personal opinion, or the view of the Arthritis Foundation. But thank you for your input

  10. The only reason they don’t want to legalize marijuana is the drug companies won’t be able to money on their pills that have so many bad side effects and some don’t even work

  11. The only reason they don’t want to legalize marijuana is the drug companies won’t be able to money on their pills that have so many bad side effects and some don’t even work I have psoriatic arthritis I simply hate taking a chemo drugs that so far haven’t done anything for swelling or pain

  12. Congratulations on a very needed article of a severely needed subject. As for myself, Im 36 and just recently got diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). I have a different approach to the legality of Marijuana in the sense that being a vegetarian I feel I have the right to consume Marajuana as a source of food. Understand this, I want to be able to eat Marajuana raw directly from the plant not to get high or medicate rather as a vegetarian source of food. I have many theories that support the idea that marijuana shoud be consumed as a natural food by all humans. Anyways, My point is eat Marajuana raw as you would tomatoes and the plant stays alive (Producing Oxygen for human consumption), the lungs/throat/mouth do not get negatively affected by the smoke from smoking it, and if our food just happens to help with health and cause a state of euphoria well then all the better…A.V.S

  13. My name is Dan I’m 35 years old have been living with phoratic arthritis since I was 26 , I used to play beach and indoor semi pro volleyball leagues ,loved playing vball ,, my arthrits got so bad in my hands and knees I had to eventually quit playing , I am a RI medical marijuana patient , and one thing I know for sure is that some how smoking a puff in the morning , lunch ,and before bed not to get high or stoned ,it some how stabilizes my over active immune system and takes down the inflamation and stiffness ,marijuana has improved my live quality a lot with little to no side affects ,which is one of my biggest concerns and cant be said about any prescription drugs ,articles and research like this one has to bring more light to this under studied plant … Keep up the good work, people are opening there eyes and moving on from the political propaganda bull shit … And looking and lisening to real people with real arthritis conditions ….

  14. They can legalize tobacco which has been proven to have no healing properties but refuse to legalize something with healing properties just proves they would rather kill us than heal us

  15. I have had doctors telling me to try MMJ for years for my PA, last month I gave in and tried it because i was tired of the constant pain and fatigue, a friend got me some and even a pipe from somebody and….

    well, I smoked 1/4 of a very small dense bud he gave me, the interesting part was, I didnt feel high, I felt like i took alergy meds, head a tiny bit floaty but not high, but, the amazing part….

    I felt my pain and fatigue melting up my arms and legs and all of a sudden like 15 or so min after smoking, i felt better then I have in 15 or so years….i felt almost “normal”

    Im on Humaria and worry about its possible side effects, i have been lucky in that I have not suffered the horrible side effects some do, the worst I have had is brusing around injection site.

    Humaria does smooth out the flares but, dosnt fix the problem…. mj is a godsend.

    for the first time in many years i was able to go shopping with my mother and walk around and not hurt for HOURS….

    my only other option is 15mg of oxy and the down side of that is possible addiction(dosnt make me feel good though) and shitting charcoal briquet’s.

    mj on the other hand has no physical adiction risks, and the effects I have seen in my own testing…..all positive….I just feel better.

    not on the other hand, I have also seen how different various strains of mj can be, some give you a head high, but dont work as well for the pain(you dont care so much that you have pain, but it dosnt really remove it) others remove the pain but dont make you feel high.

    some mj makes you tired/sleepy, other strains do not have that effect at all and leave you if anything more allert.

    there are ofcorse the strains that get you high as a kite on a windy day….and those can be great when you just need to relax and zone out/mellow out….

    I have seen no negative effects…..those who talk about the bad side of pot…i havent found it….and i been watching for it…

    I live in washington, but the laws are so messed up….its very hard to grown your own legally.

    I am so bad that I got SSI on the first appeal, the govt doctor looked over my records, talked to me for 5-10 min, and let me go having done less then 1/4 the normal exam because i could barely stand at the time…

    living on ssi its very hard for me to afford the card, if i get the card, i wont be able to afford any mmj for the month….

    it sucks but, at least i dont gotta worry about the cops arresting me….even if i did, i would still use this amazing stuff to make my life a little more bearable…..

    • thanks for this, I too am on a drug called Enbrel, like you it helps but doesn’t cure or alleviate all the pain etc. I make cannabutter to use in baking as I prefer not to smoke- brilliant & so much better than opiates i.e codeine painkillers, my brain just gets befuddled with them plus concrete bowel syndrome. Long may we achieve relief with the herb, not too long hopefully before attitudes and laws change worldwide. Be well & pain free.

  16. I live in the UK and make cannabutter then biscuits which hugely alleviate the chronic pain of ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthropathy

  17. For example, you may be pushing your spine into
    the ground, causing pressure on its posterior. Chamomile tea is recommended for muscle relaxation which works well for relaxing pinched nerves and relieving pain. You can also relax the trunk if your
    muscles are tense.

  18. The word ‘joint’ as in to smoke a joint is a common term for marihuana. And joints are surely about arthritis. It feels like a language based Story, as in the greater Story that we inherit, being about ‘spokes’ on a wheel and ‘utter’ magic. I keep a Diary that is not just entirely synchronous but one that is entitely about Words. It’s the ultimate alchemy, a distillation of a massive truth: In the beginning was the word.

    The joi or joy in join itself. Everything IS connected, a deep and ongoing truth!

    in truth: ruth High 5
    ruth.housman.5 FaceBook This Story Is About Love

  19. I want to add to what I wrote and that is, the eco logical truth is that we must pay attention to what we are doing to our environment. Arthritic conditions are on the rise, Gout is on the rise, the need to warch for gluten sensitivity is on the rise: a proliferation of gluten free food is more than, a passing fad. As to marihuana, for years it has been documented to alleviate or even cure joint pain. I think we are in for a massive change of consciousness, one that ‘marries’ consciousness with conscience. Mari wanna… it’s time to take a closer look at what powers us all, as in a movement towards joining, hands around the world. Pain feels like part of a window, a pane if you will, into how we heal, how we need and knead each other.

  20. The types of surgery commonly performed are – discectomy which removes the herniated disc that pressurized the nerves,
    the fusion surgery which is due to vertebra slip and it has
    to be fused into place by using metal rods
    and injections at the back to relieve pain. To help relieve back pain resulting from strained or injured back muscles,
    give your back plenty of rest. You should also know the type of back pain you are suffering.

  21. I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my trouble.
    You’re amazing! Thanks!

  22. fantastic submit, very informative. I wonder why the other experts
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  23. Pingback: Tomato Miracle Med Grow Cannabis College Mi

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