Herbal cannabis has gained mainstream popularity as an effective therapy for many conditions, most noticeably pain. Because chronic pain is the most common and prominent symptom of rheumatic diseases – which include inflammatory arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia among others – it is not surprising that these diseases are frequently cited by medicinal cannabis users as the reason for seeking cannabis.
A recent clinical study at McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada, however, raised questions regarding the validity of such claims. This study included 1000 patients with various rheumatic diseases diagnosed and actively treated by rheumatologists of the centre. Among this group, only 28 (2.8%) reported concurrent use of medicinal cannabis, although another 15 said to have used it at some points in the past. This low rate of use in patients with rheumatologist-confirmed diagnoses was in stark contrast to the high rates of severe arthritis frequently reported by medicinal marijuana users. Another finding was that the level of pain as indicated by the patients, as well as incidence of opioid use, were greater for concurrent cannabis users compared to non-users, despite the two groups having similar physician-assessed disease statuses. Researchers speculated two possible explanations for this phenomenon. On the one hand, herbal cannabis itself, rather than the rheumatic disease, was associated with negative outcomes. This was particularly possible since familiarity with marijuana as a recreational product was also found to be strongly associated with later consumption for pain-relief purposes. Conversely, it was possible that cannabis users were truly sicker and in need of alternative or additional therapies to reduce pain and other symptoms.