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Cannabinoids may be crucial in treating bone disease

Cannabis is a proven medicine for an array of physical and mental illnesses, but it now appears that the herb can help to strengthen bones post-fracture and even prevent bone disease. Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are notorious for being excruciatingly painful and eroding quality of life. But research over the past decade or so has shown that cannabinoids can be therapeutic for osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones brittle and prone to fractures. Cannabis medicine also has promise as an arthritis treatment and for those who’ve broken bones through general injuries.

How cannabidiol (CBD) repairs broken bones

Israel, world leaders in cannabis research, have produced more fascinating data about the wonders of the cannabis plant. Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University teamed up for a study in 2015, which investigated the potential of cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment for broken bones. A “fracture callus”, made of cartilage, is formed after a fracture to bridge the gap between the break or breaks.

The scientists discovered that cannabinoid receptors help to stimulate bone growth and strengthen the fracture callus after it forms, when they injected CBD into rat models. Rodents make good test subjects for cannabinoid experiments, since they also have endocannabinoid systems and have similar brains to humans. Rats are regularly used as a first trial for potential osteoporosis drugs, too. The researchers tested two cannabinoid treatments, one a mixture of CBD and THC, the other just CBD, administering it to rats with broken thigh bones.

While THC displayed little beneficial effect, CBD had a remarkable impact on the body’s ability to self-heal. The pure CBD treatment worked much better than the THC-CBD combination, providing the bones with more strength as well as quickening healing times. By strengthening the fracture callus, the CBD ensured that bones were less likely to experience a future breakage. The Israeli researchers concluded that bones treated with CBD became 35 to 50 percent stronger than those that weren’t.

Marijuana’s influence on bone metabolism

The revelation that marijuana compounds can repair broken bones is astonishing for the world of medicine, although it’s not the first time that scientists have uncovered a link between cannabinoid consumption and good bone health. What we are less sure about is what effect – if any – our body’s own endocannabinoids have on bone health.

However, the study has proven that the role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) cannot be ignored when it comes to bone health and the healing process. The ECS protects and repairs the bones through the bone metabolism process (aka bone remodelling).

Bone metabolism involves replacing old bone material with new material which ensures they stay, strong, sturdy and healthy. It’s vital for the body to replenish the bones with new material to stave off incremental micro-damage. Without bone metabolism, bones would slowly but surely become irreversibly damaged. Around 10 percent of bone structure is replaced annually in the average adult.

The role of fatty acid amides (FAAs) in the bone metabolism was explored in-depth in a 2011 article featured in the British Journal of Pharmacology. The article showed that FAAs interact with cannabinoid receptors to promote the bone metabolism process.

CBD allows FAAs to work their magic by inhibiting FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), an enzyme that would otherwise break down FAAs, stopping them from facilitating bone metabolism. The blocking effect that CBD has on FAAH is not a new finding and is responsible for some of cannabidiol’s other therapeutic properties.

It will take additional studies to obtain a complete understanding on the influence that the endocannabinoid system has on bone formation, preserving and strengthening bones and warning off bone disease.

The knowledge that CBD blocks FAAH, an in doing so allows FAA to thrive, is useful to medical experts who are looking for a new of treating osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.

Treating bone disease with marijuana

Marijuana can also be used to treat bone diseases, in addition to breaks and fractures. Let’s look at how the herb can help osteoarthritis and osteoporosis patients, whose conditions subject them to chronic pain, in more detail.

Osteoarthritis

The most prominent of all arthritis conditions, osteoarthritis has a gradual effect which worsens with age, as cartilage encompassing bones and joints begins to deteriorate. However, constant stress, obesity and other injuries can also be responsible for osteoarthritis. The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are severe pain, movement difficulties in the affected area/areas, and general aches.

Osteoarthritis tends to affect the hands, knees, hips and back more than other parts of the body. This contributes to pain, stiffness, reduced flexibility, grinding of the joints, tenderness and bone spurs.

Studies have demonstrated that marijuana can have a positive effect on osteoarthritis, for which there is no cure, by controlling the symptoms. The therapeutic properties of CBD were first investigated on arthritic mice by British cannabis researchers at the turn of the century.  The study gave the mice an injection that would cause them to exhibit human-like osteoarthritis symptoms.

After the osteoarthritic symptoms became apparent, a dose of pure CBD was administered to the rats, which helped to slow the onset of the inflammatory condition.

Synthetic cannabinoids have also been used in studies to determine the effects that the compounds have on human cartilage. In one study, synthetic cannabinoids were injected into cartilage affected by osteoarthritis. The researchers found that CBD helped to slow the cartilage breakdown by neutralizing enzyme proteins which cause osteoarthritis.

This has led scientists to dream about a future where cannabinoids could be used to create cartilage replacements for arthritis sufferers. A 2010 study investigated the possibilities of cartilage engineering, theorising that cannabinoids could extend the life of cartilage-creating mesenchymal stem cells.

Despite good progress being made in these areas of research, the absence of human clinical trials is holding the prospect of cannabinoid therapy for those with osteoarthritis. CBD is the most promising compound, but other non-psychoactive cannabinoids should not be discounted. If anything is true about endocannabinoid research, it’s that there’s still plenty we don’t know!

Osteoporosis

Brittle bones can occur due to not consuming the correct cocktail of nutrients or simply through old age – whichever, the resulting disease is known as osteoporosis. Our bones are always being removed of old material and replaced by the new through the bone metabolism process.

CBD is the cannabinoid of interest for most researchers, but fellow non-psychoactive cannabinoid Cannabigerol (CBG) has attracted attention as well. In truth, without comprehensively studying every single cannabinoid, we cannot establish the overall potential of cannabinoid medicine as a treatment for osteoporosis.

Interestingly, CBG has not slipped the attention of Big Pharma giant GW Pharmaceuticals. The UK-based company has acquired a patent on CBG as an osteoporosis treatment.

The medicinal potential of psychoactive THC for osteoporosis should not be discarded, due to the compound’s simple but all-powerful bond with CB1 receptors. These receptors can be found in the brain, central nervous system, gut and, you guessed it, bones. When inhaled or consumed orally, THC interacts with the CB1 receptors in all these parts of the body, setting off a series of reactions which alter already-occurring biochemical processes.

A connection between age-related osteoporosis and the CB1 receptor was identified in a study published in Cell Metabolism in 2009. The study tested two groups of mice, one with CB1 receptors and the other without them. Despite the mice without CB1 receptors developing thick bones, these were still prone to osteoporosis, unlike the mice that did have CB1 receptors.

The bone density in mice without CB1 receptors drew the curiosity of the British scientists, who, after a closer look, found that the insides of their bones were clogged with fat deposits and not the expected bone marrow. Therefore, it appears that osteoporosis is more likely to occur in fat-filled bones.

The CB1 receptor looks after bones by modulating the rate that old bone material is broken down and reabsorbed at. In the mice without CB1 receptors, mature bone material wasn’t being shifted – hence, it accumulated, leading to unusually high bone thickness.

It appears the CB1 receptor also modulates the amount of fat kept inside the bone, and the creation of new bone cells. Fatty bones are more likely to bring about osteoporosis and bone breakages.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem uncovered a link between CB2 receptors and bone density in a 2009 study conducted on mice. CB2 receptors are the second-most abundant cannabinoid receptor in the endocannabinoid system. Bone density was reduced among the mice with mutated CB2 receptors.

According to the research team, the CB2 receptor promoted a balanced bone metabolism, which in turn helped to neutralize the impact of age-caused bone loss. THC and CBG are known to latch onto the CB2 receptor.

The study also suggests that post-menopausal osteoporosis could be a genetic disorder. With this evidence in mind, there’s a strong case for studying the endocannabinoid system further as a possible target for the treatment of bone disease. Age-related bone disease may have an even closer connection to the endocannabinoid system.

Coping with arthritic pain using cannabis

In addition to limiting cartilage breakdown and even repairing cartilage among osteoarthritis patients, it’s possible that cannabinoid medicine may be able to treat chronic arthritic pain in a completely different way to conventional painkillers.

The endocannabinoid system should be a key target for relieving osteoarthritis pain, says a 2014 review. We know that the endocannabinoid system controls pain sensation and can reduce inflammation, both of which are significant for arthritis patients. The endocannabinoid system also helps keeps bones and joints in tip-top shape.

The CB2 receptor also plays a role in osteoarthritis pain, says another 2014 study. Synthetic cannabinoids were tested on human and animal models, with the aim of determining whether the compounds could relieve pain. Rats with osteoarthritis were the first to be tested, and the experiment revealed that fewer pain signals were transmitted following the activation of the CB2 receptor. Their scans showed that CB2 receptors were activated in the spinal cord, a key pain messenger. The brain becomes aware of bodily pain courtesy of messages co-ordinated by the spinal cord.

Furthermore, the study found a correlation between the density of CB2 receptors in the spinal cord and the seriousness of the arthritis. This discovery was labelled “significant” by Victoria Chapman, an author of the study. She suggested that the link between CB2 receptors, the spinal cord and pain was reason enough to continue research into “cannabinoid-based interventions” as a solution for osteoarthritis pain.

Mending broken bones with marijuana

Cannabis helps to prevent osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other bone diseases as well as aid the recovery process for broken bones. However, cannabinoids don’t just treat the condition, they also work to reduce the pain caused by arthritis or a broken bone. Here are a few more cannabis uses for bone-related ailments.

Chronic post-injury pain

Anybody that has experienced the misfortune of a broken bone may remember the pain lasting for a long, long time after the breakage healed. Traditional painkillers are often prescribed to numb the pain, but these can also have some harmful side effects, such as addiction – particularly dangerous with opioid-based painkillers – headaches and a feeling of disconnect. Not to mention the body builds a tolerance to such substances, meaning higher and higher dosages are needed for the same effect, adding to the risk of overdose.

Cannabis is a much kinder, safer and non-addictive alternative to opioid painkillers, and it can be just as potent and fast-acting as your prescription meds. Cannabinoids facilitate speedy bone repair and also decrease the body’s pain sensitivity, through their actions in the endocannabinoid system.

The most effective pain-relieving cannabinoids are CBD and THC. However, the latter isn’t a suitable treatment for all due to its hallucinogenic properties.

Fracture pain

Bone fractures are often even more painful than a complete break, due to the incessant bursts of sharp pains and the ever-present ache. While painkillers are often the prescribed remedy, marijuana seems to do the task better. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take your prescription opioids at all (this isn’t medical advice, always consult a doctor for personalized advice), but to just manage your intake. In fact, you may be able to mix it with marijuana for a boost in pain relief, allowing you to cut your dosage down. There are a few studies supportive of this theory.

Patients living in states without medical marijuana laws are unfortunately able to combine the herb with their opioid medicines, due to a clause in the contract. In such situations, patients may wish to consider hemp-based CBD products or relocating to a state which has legalized cannabis, either medically, recreationally or both.

Reducing inflammation with cannabis

Inflammation is one of the most prominent symptoms of bone disease. Swelling occurs rapidly following a bone fracture or break, ramping up the pain. A little bit of inflammation does the body no harm, but an excess amount around the joints – where the bones brush against each other – will cause pain and slow the healing process. Scar tissue can also form due to extended inflammation.

Marijuana tackles inflammation from a few angles, partly depending on your method of consumption. Oral intake methods include smoking, vaping, consuming an edible and tinctures. However, the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids are often harnessed in topicals, which are applied to the skin, which is rich in cannabinoid receptors. Topical application can reduce pain and inflammation surrounding the joints, and has a similar effect when rubbed onto areas inflamed due to bone fractures and breaks.

Dietary cannabis is rising in popularity, as it provides the therapeutic qualities of CBD and typically psychoactive THC, by delivering the compounds in their cannabinoid acid forms – CBDa and THCa. Marijuana has emerged as the world’s newest superfood, bursting at the seams with therapeutic and health-boosting compounds. When making a delicious anti-inflammatory smoothie, be sure to use the flower and fan leaves from the cannabis plant.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cannabis are extracted more efficiently when consumed as raw, fresh cannabis than when smoked or even vaporized.

Protect your bones with these top tips

Are you enduring chronic pain, due to a bone fracture, arthritic pain or for any other reason? Cannabis can help to relieve the pain and protect your bones. Here are a few tips and tricks.

DIY weed topicals

Quell the pain from a fracture or give your aching joints some relief by applying a cannabis-infused salve to the affected area. If painkillers or orally-intaking cannabis hasn’t worked, this is a great way of activating the cannabinoids which will reduce pain and inflammation.

Cannabis pills (cannacaps)

Cannabis capsules are an efficient, clean and discreet way of medicating with cannabis. You can get capsules made from a range of strains, giving you the choice between high-THC and high-CBD medicating. While you can purchase premade capsules, it may save you money to purchase oil, empty capsules and fill them up yourself.

Cannabis tea

You’ll need to know how to make cannabutter (cannabis-infused butter) if you want to brew psychoactive cannabis tea. Failing that, you could always buy some at the dispensary. Cannabis tea is an excellent pain-reliever, and its extended effects are most useful for those suffering from consistent, aching pain.

Final thoughts

After we get some high-quality clinical human trials back, we’ll have more clarify on the medicinal effect that cannabis has on our bones. The signals from preliminary research are that certain cannabinoids – CBD, THC and CBG to state three – help maintain the health and strength of bones.

CBD can speed up the recovery time from broken bones and stop arthritis progression, according to studies on animal models. General pain and inflammation-related pain due to arthritis and bone injuries could also be treatable with CBD.

Have you taken marijuana to cope with bone disease, a fracture or a break? If so, it’d be great to hear your experiences. Drop us a line in the comments section.

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