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Cannabis type drugs could help osteoarthritis pain

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Osteoarthritis pain might be helped with cannabis type drugs.

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition of the joints brought about by wear and tear. Sometimes osteoarthritis occurs from repeated injury and it is more common as we age. Now researchers from the University of Nottingham have found drugs that act like cannabis in the brain and spinal cord might help quell pain associated with the form of arthritis that can cause major disability and decreased quality of life.

The new research carried out at the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre at The University of Nottingham found synthetic cannabis type drugs quell inflammation associated with the pain of osteoarthritis. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) that are commonly prescribed also reduce inflammation and pain but carry significant risks, especially for people with underlying medical conditions. NSAIDS are also considered unsafe when used long-term.

Cannabinoid receptor2 (CB2) found in human spinal cord tissue

Professor Victoria Chapman at the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre at The University of Nottingham and colleagues isolated the compound JWH133 that is not found in the marijuana plant but targets the same brain molecule as marijuana to reduce pain; known as cannabinoid receptor2 (CB2), based on mouse studies.

The researchers found CB2 receptors in human spinal cord tissue for the first time. They also found higher number of receptors correlate with more severe osteoarthritis, meaning synthetic cannabis type drugs could also help humans.

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The study findings are published online in the journal PLOS One.

Victoria Chapman, Professor of Neuropharmacology, said in a press release: "This finding is significant, as spinal and brain pain signalling pathways are known to make a major contribution to pain associated with osteoarthritis. These new data support the further evaluation of the selective cannabinoid-based interventions for the treatment of osteoarthritis pain."

According to Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, there is an "urgent need" for treatment for osteoarthritis that affects millions in the UK. Silman emphasizes the finding does not support recreational use of marijuana, but rather it opens doors to new drug treatments for osteoarthritis that have fewer side effects than what is currently available. Other treatments for osteoarthritis include exercise, physical therapy, joint replacement surgery and weight loss that takes stress of the degenerating cartilage that occurs at the end of bones from the progressive condition.

It's also important to note that marijuana has also been used to effectively treat pain related to osteoarthritis pain (and more) which begs the question: Why do we need to make a cannabis-like drug, unless it is to bypass the "high" associated with smoking pot.

Burston JJ, Sagar DR, Shao P, Bai M, King E, et al. (2013) Cannabinoid CB2 Receptors Regulate Central Sensitization and Pain Responses Associated with Osteoarthritis of the Knee Joint. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80440. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080440

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons



I am a patient of OA . It started with the spine and later the knee. After going through some treatment with drugs like: Voltarin Retard, Norflex and calcium, I have been able to manage the spine and knee. My major problem now is my right hand shoulder. I feel as if something is eating the bone and drugs are not helping the pain, especially in the night. Thank you.
I have osteoarthritis in both shoulders, knees and both feet and I'm constantly in oain with nonrelief at all. My oain is also associated with fibromyalgia which is also an added pain combined with osteoarthritis. If I could have ONE day without pain, I would be so gratefull! Joanne from Gatineau, Quebec