A new survey of more than 1,000 arthritis patients found that 57% of those questioned had tried cannabis for their symptoms, and more than 90% said it helped ease their pain.
The cost of a med card and cannabis itself is a limiting factor for many, because insurance won't cover it.
The survey was conducted by CreakyJoints, an online arthritis support community that’s part of the nonprofit Global Healthy Living Foundation. The results, published earlier this month, illustrate the extent to which medical cannabis has been embraced by mainstream patients managing conditions like arthritis.
Over the years, cannabis been studied for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and some studies have even illuminated patient preference for cannabis where chronic pain is concerned.
Not Just CBD Alone
One prior study, published in May 2019, reported that rheumatoid arthritis patients described medical cannabis, “as an alternative therapy to be used with prescription medications or as means of tapering off these medications.” Another study published a year prior cited that “chronic pain was the most common reason for cannabis use.” Likewise, CBD was shown to have a potent anti-arthritic affect in as early as a 2000.
But few studies have looked at just how common cannabis and CBD use is among arthritis patients or what the patient experience is really like. That’s why this new study from CreakyJoints is especially enlightening.
As part of the Global Healthy Living Foundation, CreakyJoints is particularly focused on serving the arthritis community. Researchers were curious about how the arthritis patient community both perceives and uses cannabis, so they gave a 77-question survey to 1,059 patients. The results were presented at the 2019 Annual European Congress of Rheumatology.
The CreakyJoints survey found that:
- Nearly half (46%) of all 1,059 survey participants reported a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Most participants (77%) reported fair/poor health.
- Only 29% of all survey participants were satisfied or very satisfied with their current treatment, and more than half (67%) had been on their current treatment for >1 year.
- More than half (62%) of those currently using cannabis for medical use reported using it at least once daily.
- When acquiring medical cannabis, 39.8% of participants used a medical marijuana card issued by the state.
- Of the participants who lived in a state where medical cannabis was legal and chose not to use a medical marijuana card, the top reasons for not using it were cost (28%) and difficulty accessing it (25%).
- Most patients who had ever used medical cannabis and/or CBD reported that the use improved their symptoms (97.1% for medical cannabis; 93.7% for CBD) and condition (96.1% for medical cannabis; 93.1% for CBD).
A Typical Patient
Leafly contacted one of the arthritis patients who was involved with developing questions for the study. Tien Sydnor-Campbell, 49, was diagnosed with arthritis at age 40. She says that her treatment journey has been “an up and down roller coaster” and that her lack of access to information about cannabis, especially from her doctors, has presented challenges.
In the 9 years since her diagnosis, she’s tried several different doctors and treatment methods to address her symptoms. Currently she takes biologic medications and some prescription narcotics to address the disfigurement and pain. She’s also in the process of getting her medical marijuana license.
“I’ve been on narcotic medications for about four years now and it’s kind of scary because once you go over a certain amount your body becomes tolerant and then you’re just going to need more and more,” she said. “I don’t want to slide over that hill into the area where I need more narcotic medication when there’s something that is an alternative that appears to be way safer—like cannabis.”
Pennsylvania: Legal MMJ
Sydnor-Campbell lives in Pennsylvania, a medical-only state where access to cannabis is very difficult to get, despite a growing push for adult-use legalization. Although arthritis patients she knew were recommending cannabis as a treatment for her, she found her doctors to be reticent about discussing cannabis with her.
In fact, Sydnor-Campbell’s rheumatologist once discouraged her from trying THC for her arthritis. “It was a little bit like, well, you can do it but I there are no studies that prove it’s going to work,” she said.
As a result, many patients avoid cannabis or take it in secret. “Alarmingly, only two-thirds of patients consulted with their doctors about their medical marijuana use,” reported CreakyJoints. “But because there have not been clinical trials for medical marijuana, patients and their doctors do not have adequate information about safety, effectiveness, and proper dosing.”
Tried Amsterdam First
Sydnor-Campbell actually took a four-day trip to Amsterdam so she could try out the various cannabis products for herself, in a legal space. “I [tried] out everything so that I would know what things were going to work for me,” she said, “Because what I didn’t want was to just get high. I need the pain relief.”
Tien Sydnor-Campbell says she’s in the process of getting access to medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, which recently expanded the list of diagnoses who qualify for medical cannabis. Though she’s ecstatic to qualify and thinks getting a medical license will be ultimately worth it, paying out-of-pocket for cannabis is expensive for someone on a fixed income like she is.
Many Costs Involved
“It’s a little bit of a trick because you can’t really just walk into a dispensary, you have to find [and pay for] a [specialist], get the appointment…and then you have to pay for the license…and then you can go to the dispensary [for the cannabis] and you’re looking at that cost, which I think will be something like $50 a month,” she said. “It’s very different than my [other] medication, which is completely covered by insurance.”
Overall, Sydnor-Campbell, as a member of the patient governor’s board, got involved with the CreakyJoints study because she wanted to help illuminate more about medical cannabis as a treatment option for arthritis-sufferers. She’s also is passionate about the push towards legalization, which she says would make cannabis more accessible to patients and encourage doctors and patients to be transparent about using it.
“[The only way] doctors can be armed with information is to have…clinically-sound research,” she said. “We already know people are using this, so it’s time we start studying it now, now, now.”