United Patients Group (UPG) regularly hears from patients that wish they knew earlier that medical cannabis is a treatment option when presented with their other pharmaceutical choices. The problems leading up to this lack of information is at least twofold: healthcare providers are not always knowledgeable about when cannabis can be a viable and effective treatment option, and patients often do not think/know/feel free to ask about it. As the body of knowledge in this area grows, the education of health care providers expands, and the self-advocacy of patients has an ever-increasing voice, so too will the option of medical cannabis come to the forefront. UPG is a leader in this regard. UPG offers consumers and the healthcare community relevant and reliable online topics on all things medical cannabis, while also providing specific curriculum options aimed toward professionals and providing both CME (continuing medical education) and CNE (continuing nursing education) credits.
Let’s explore a few topics of cannabis treatments in this blog as it relates to the musculoskeletal system. Select examples of common concern include: fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and osteoporosis. The reason that the use of cannabis for medical intervention is so far reaching is that our body has its own built in cannabis receptors and chemical production line. Our bodies naturally produce cannabis-like products that keep multiple body systems in a check and balance formation. It is no surprise then that cannabis, as a therapy, can augment or replace an imbalance in regulation of the body in any system where an imbalance in cannabis receptor/chemical ratios occurs.
Fibromyalgia is a common chronic pain syndrome of unclear cause that effects approximately 2% of the US population and occurs in women 7 times more often than men. It can exist alongside other rheumatologic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, or occur independently. Fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose because symptoms such as fatigue, general muscle aches, and sleep disturbances, are so vague and relatively common. Although there is still no cure for this condition, it can be managed to minimize symptoms. Treatment is variably effective with traditional approaches. Three common medication categories used to treat this include pain relievers, anti-seizure medications or antidepressants. Narcotics are not recommended because of their addiction potential. Lyrica, a recent FDA approved drug to treat fibromyalgia, has a side effect profile that includes dizziness, weight gain, blurred vision and unusual bleeding. Cannabis use in fibromyalgia can help with relief of muscle stiffness, sleeping, and even an overall feeling of well-being. In comparison to these traditional medications, cannabis has minimal side effects.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable often disabling disease of the nervous system. The occurrence of multiple sclerosis has been linked to gender (again, like fibromyalgia, more women than men), genetics (may occur within families but is not known to be directly inherited), and geography (occurs in locations furthest from the equator). It is thought to affect over 2 million people worldwide. Symptoms can be highly variable and progressive; so that treatment options to alleviate or halt progression is key. Patients with this condition who have tried cannabis reported symptom reduction in muscle spasms, frequency of urination, and pain. By reducing the severity of symptoms, cannabinoids are helping MS patients perform their daily activities much more effectively and improves their functional status allowing them to more fully participate at work and in pleasurable activities. It is encouraging that more and more research is being done and reported with respect to the use and benefits of medical cannabis. Additionally, reports of real life patient testimonials humanize its use.
Bone is constantly breaking down and building up throughout our lives. Osteoporosis, or thinning of our bones, sets in when the breaking down process exceeds the building up process. This can occur during the aging process in both men and women as our hormone levels decline. The burden of bone disease is heavy, having a huge impact on the individual, their families, and society. While many may not die from bone disease, it certainly causes significant disability. Recent direct annual costs of osteoporotic fracture total 12 to 18 million dollars, and this number would be significantly larger if indirect costs were considered. It turns out that cannabis has an effective role here. There are receptors on bone that respond to cannabis including increasing the activity of bone cells that build, and slowing down the creation of bone cells that break bone down. The net result is an increase in bone thickness, which addresses exactly the problem with osteoporosis.
Medical cannabis has a clear role in the management of musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the case of difficult to treat or chronic pain. The traditional prescription of opioids for this type of pain management has recently come under intense scrutiny, with the abuse of and addiction to prescription pain medication, reaching truly epidemic proportions. The number of unintentional overdoses due to prescription pain medications has more than quadrupled since 1999.
United Patients Group has exposed this issue numerous times over the last several years, and decided to shine a bright light on the subject at their second annual medical cannabis conference, held last month at Dominican University in San Rafael, CA. One group of high profile patients (often silently suffering with multiple episodes of injury, and sometimes-chronic musculoskeletal pain) include professional athletes. Many professional athletes are emerging from the shadows and aggressively advocating for the use of medical cannabis as an alternative to more dangerous and debilitating prescription drugs At the conference, a panel that included NFL player, Brandon Haw, former NBA All-Star Cliff Robinson, and 7-year police veteran (forced to retire after suffering a severe brain injury while pursuing an assailant), Brian Keyner, got together to discuss their path and how cannabis has emerged as a sensible and safer alternative to opioids. Brandon Haw described how he had been playing football since he was a child. The collective toll it took on his body rising to the professional ranks was devastating. After retirement, Brandon felt the medication he was being prescribed was changing him – physically and emotionally – and he sought a better option. His personal journey led him to fully research cannabis, and he attended Oaksterdam University to immerse himself in education and understanding surrounding cannabis. The panelists, and their experience in treating their musculoskeletal pain with medical cannabis was a first-hand account of this effective alternative to opioids.
The theme of the conference was aptly dubbed “The Science. The Truth.” And arming yourself with knowledge, not hype, is what all of us need, particularly when it comes to dealing with any of the ailments listed above. Empower yourself, or your loved ones, by learning the facts. And don’t be discouraged… It can be reassuring that this kind of information for symptom relief is out there.
If you would like to learn more about cannabis and how it fits in to your existing health program, schedule a consultation with us to have your medical cannabis questions answered.