The national conversation about using CBD and marijuana for medical purposes keeps getting more interesting. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently held its first public hearing to help figure out how to regulate CBD products. The Transportation Security Administration just released a new policy that allows flying with certain FDA-approved medical marijuana and products that contain hemp-derived CBD oil.
These days, you can’t read the New York Times, watch local news outlets, or listen to NPR without hearing about the increasing prevalence and interest in using marijuana and/or CBD to treat a host of ailments — from acne to Alzheimer’s to anxiety to arthritis, to start at the beginning of the alphabet, anyway.
But no matter what you read, watch, or listen to, one thing is abundantly clear. We need more information, both about how these compounds work medically and which patients and types of health problems can best benefit from them.
CreakyJoints wanted to understand how our arthritis patient community perceives and uses medical marijuana and CBD, so we conducted a recent survey to find out more. In research presented at the 2019 Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR) meeting in Madrid, Spain, we gave 1,059 patients with arthritis a 77-item survey to delve deeper into their usage of marijuana and CBD. Here’s what we learned.
Marijuana is a type of cannabis plant that contains THC, the chemical responsible for getting people “high” as well as some CBD, or cannabidiol. CBD is a different kind of compound that can be isolated from hemp plants that is thought to have various medical benefits but doesn’t have an intoxicating effect.
More than half of people surveyed (57 percent) said they tried marijuana or CBD for a medical reason. The average age of patients in our survey was 57; the vast majority were female.
Most patients (77 percent) reported being in fair or poor health (based on a standardized survey instrument) and only 29 percent said they were satisfied with their current treatment plan. These were longtime patients; the average time since they were diagnosed was 14 years.
Most patients surveyed had either rheumatoid arthritis (46 percent) or osteoarthritis (22 percent). Others had psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, and ankylosing spondylitis.
2. Patients used marijuana or CBD to treat a host of different symptoms
Managing arthritis isn’t just about treating pain or swelling. Patient surveyed reporting using marijuana or CBD to treat many different symptoms and side effects of living with arthritis, including:
- Inability to sleep
- Depressed mood
- Physical function
The vast majority of arthritis patients who reported using marijuana or CBD said it helped their symptoms: 97% of people who tried marijuana said it improved symptoms; 93% of people who tried CBD said it improved symptoms.
3. The doctor-patient conversation about marijuana and CBD is tricky
About half of patients (45 percent) said they started using marijuana or CBD to address arthritis symptoms they have despite taking medication. Talking to the doctor about your usage — and how it relates with the other medications you take — is critical, but our study found that there’s a disconnect between what patients want to know and what their providers are able to discuss.
Just two-thirds of patients reported telling their health care provider about their marijuana or CBD use. Most of those who did (58 percent) reported that their provider did not consider this when making treatment changes nor offer advice about safety, effectiveness, or dosing. About half (54 percent) of people wanted to get more information on marijuana and CBD from their doctor.
“Anecdotally, and via this survey data, we know that there are many people with arthritis who benefit from marijuana and CBD products. However, we have to temper our potential excitement about adding these products to an arthritis management strategy because there is so much yet to learn about how these supplements interact with people’s prescribed and over-the-counter medicines and if, in fact, they can be proven to positively impact a person’s experience of disease and symptoms,” says W. Benjamin Nowell, PhD, Director of Patient-Centered Research at CreakyJoints and an ArthritisPower co-principal investigator and poster author.
“It’s vital that marijuana and CBD products are tested for their safety, dosing, and effectiveness in randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard for understanding the risks and benefits of treating disease. In the meantime, we encourage people with arthritis to openly communicate with the health care team about their use of these products so it can be part of their health history and taken into account when making decisions about future care.”
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