No Bones About It: How Cannabis May Combat Bone Diseases
Compounds in the marijuana plant may help prevent bone diseases and even make them stronger after fracture.
There ain’t no bones about it! Compounds in the marijuana plant may help prevent bone diseases and even make them stronger after fracture. Diseases like osteoporosis can make bones incredibly brittle. So much so that they can break even after a soft fall. Research conducted over the past several years has found that cannabinoids may be potent therapeutic agents for protecting against painful bone diseases.
CBD helps mend broken bones
There’s good news for anyone with a break or fracture out there! 2015 research from the Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University found that nonpsychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) may help heal broken bones. When you get a fracture, your body produces what’s called a “fracture callus”, building a natural “bridge” between the areas of the break. This bridge is made of cartilage.
The researchers found that cannabinoid receptors can trigger bone formation and strengthen the bridge that connects broken bones. The study was performed in rat models, which is how previous osteoporosis drugs were tested prior to clinical trials. In their study, researchers injected rats with broken thigh bones with either straight CBD or a combination of CBD and THC.
The results of the experiment were pretty amazing. THC did not show to have much of any effect when it came to speeding up the body’s self-healing mechanisms. But, pure CBD did. The scientists found that bones of rats treated with CBD alone not only healed more quickly but the previous fracture was less likely to break in the future because of a strengthened fracture callus.
The study estimated that the treated bone is 35-50% stronger than a non-treated bone.
Cannabis and bone metabolism
The finding that components in the marijuana plant help mend fractured bones is incredible. But, researchers have known that there is a connection between cannabinoids and bone health for quite some time. The exact way our own endocannabinoids, the cannabis-like compounds produced by our own bodies, aid bone development is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the endocannabinoid system does play a major role in maintaining the health of our bones.
One way it does this is by facilitating a process known as bone metabolism, or bone remodeling.
The stresses of daily life put a decent amount of strain on your bones. “Bone metabolism” is the process in which old bone material is replaced by new bone material, keeping your bones healthy and strong throughout your life. Your body builds new bone growth in order to combat the micro-damage that occurs on a daily basis. In all, a healthy adult body will replace about 10% of your bone structure each year.
An article published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2011 found that fatty acid amides (FAAs) help coordinate the process of bone metabolism by interacting with cannabinoid receptors.
FAAs are important because they are broken down by a particular enzyme that’s blocked by CBD. That enzyme is called FAAH. It’s been known for quite some time that CBD inhibits FAAH. This means that it prevents the enzyme from breaking down bone-forming compounds. The exact implications of this are still unclear in the scientific research. But, nonetheless, the endocannabinoid system plays a part in preserving the strength of your bones.
According to lead study authors Itia Bab and Reem Smoum,
…inhibition of FAAH, the FAA degrading enzyme, may prove as a useful therapeutic strategy to combat osteoporosis and perhaps other skeletal deficits.
Marijuana and bone diseases
Aside from breaks and fractures due to accident or injury, there are a couple of bone diseases that marijuana may be able to help. Namely, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Here’s an explanation of how marijuana may prevent these bone diseases:
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become extremely brittle from either aging or a lack of proper nutrients. Thanks to bone metabolism, your bones are constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when new bone cells aren’t being created as quickly as older bone cells are diminishing.
In terms of maintaining bone strength, nonpsychoactive CBD is a supplement worth exploring. But, other cannabinoids also might prove to be potent preventative medicines. Cannabigerol (CBG) is another nonpsychoactive marijuana compound, and it is currently being examined for its potential bone healing properties. In fact, Britain-based GW Pharmaceuticals currently holds a patent for the therapeutic use of CBG as a potential treatment for osteoporosis.
THC, the chemical that gives you the ‘high’ when you consume marijuana, may also hold some value in preventing brittle bones. CB1 receptors are found in many areas of the body, including inside bones, in the brain, and throughout the gut. When you consume marijuana, psychoactive THC connects to cell receptors in all of these areas. The cannabinoid then influences the biochemical processes at work in these regions.
A 2009 study published in Cell Metabolism found that the CB1 cell receptor, the place where THC connects best in the body, is linked to the development of age-related osteoporosis. The research used mice as test subjects. According to the study, mice that didn’t have any CB1 receptors at all developed really thick bones but still suffered from osteoporosis. When the British research team further examined bone density in these mice, they found that they had significantly more fat deposits inside the bone. This area is usually filled with bone marrow.
More fat inside bones = osteoporosis
Simply explained, these findings led them to conclude that the CB1 receptor protects bones by regulating how much mature bone material is broken down and reabsorbed in the body. This is why mice without the receptor had thicker bones–older bone material wasn’t being slumped off and reused by the body. They also articulate that the CB1 receptor controlled how much fat was stored inside the bone, along with the formation of new bone cells. The greater the fat deposits inside the bone, the more brittle and prone to fracture the bones become. This leads to osteoporosis.
Another 2009 study conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found a connection between CB2 receptors and bone density in mice. Mice with “mutated” CB2 receptors had a lower bone density than those that did not. The researchers reported that one major role of the CB2 receptor was to protect against age-related bone loss through facilitating balanced bone metabolism. Both CBG and THC interact directly with the CB2 receptor.
The report also cited evidence that alterations in the gene that is responsible for coding CB2 receptor are linked to post-menopausal osteoporosis in humans. All of these findings are strong evidence that the endocannabinoid system is a promising therapeutic target in preventing bone diseases, particularly ones that are age-related.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis worldwide. It affects most people as they age. Over time, the cartilage between bones and surrounding joints begins to break down. This can cause fairly severe pain, achiness, and make it difficult to move or use the affected body part. This disease most often impacts joints around the hip, knee, hand, and back.
There is no cure for the disease. However, a handful of studies show that marijuana may be a useful preventative medicine for osteoarthritis. One of the most promising was published back in 2000 by a team out of London. In their research, mice were injected with forms of collagen-induced arthritis, which is meant to mimic the symptoms of human arthritis in the rodent’s body.
Once the mice began showing symptoms, the researchers treated them with pure CBD. The CBD effectively stopped the progression of arthritis among the rodents. Though results from this test in animal models were extremely positive, clinical trials in humans are needed in order to tell if CBD is effective in halting the progression of the disease in our own bodies.
Another review published in 2014 suggests that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in osteoarthritis pain. The article articulates that cannabinoids may be crucial medicinal targets for osteoarthritis management. The endocannabinoid system has been shown to influence the body’s inflammatory and pain responses, and also helps maintain joint and bone health.
Marijuana and bone pain
Cannabinoids may prove beneficial for helping you recover from bone injuries and for preventing bone diseases like osteoporosis. But, marijuana can also be a useful aid for coping with the pain caused by these injuries and weaknesses. Here are a few additional ways cannabis can help:
The ache and sharp pains that accompany a fracture can easily drive you crazy. Fortunately, there are a few ways marijuana may be a useful coping tool. With any break, you’re likely to receive a temporary prescription for painkillers from your doctor. More often than not, people with broken bones are prescribed opioids. Some studies show that smoking marijuana in tandem with opioids enables you to consume lower doses of both substances with enhanced pain-fighting abilities.
Though, if you live in a state without legal medical marijuana, opioid contracts will prevent you from being able to consume cannabis. If you’re looking to avoid opioids altogether, other studies have shown that cannabis is a viable alternative as a strong pain reliever.
Chronic post-injury pain
If you’ve severely broken a bone at any point in your life, it’s not uncommon to feel pain in that area long after the injury has technically healed. Prescription painkillers are often lacking when it comes to managing this type of chronic pain. Staying on prescription painkillers for extended periods of time can lead to tolerance, harmful side effects, and possibly addiction.
This is where cannabis comes in. Marijuana is often seen as a far safer and more effective medicine for the long-term treatment of chronic pain. Not only can cannabinoids apparently help bones heal faster, but the endocannabinoid system helps regulate your body’s pain response. Compounds like THC and CBD are potent analgesics that engage this system, alleviating pain while also avoiding some of the harsh side-effects of prescription painkillers.
In the event that you fracture or break a bone, the area is going to swell up with inflammation pretty much immediately. If this inflammation stays put, it can actually hinder the healing process and do significant damage over time. Rubbing a cannabis topical (recipe below) over the inflamed area can drastically reduce the amount of fluid buildup and tissue damage that occurs around the break. Ingesting marijuana also fights inflammation systemically.
DIY bone-protecting creations
Whether you have a bone disease and are interested in experimenting with medical cannabis, or if you’re looking for some much-needed pain relief after a fracture or cartilage tear, here are a few home remedies that you might find useful:
- Cannabis Pills– Also known as “cannacaps” these DIY marijuana pills can be made with either high CBD or THC-dominant strains. Many patients with medical conditions purchase caps like these for $20-50 at a local dispensary. If you make them yourself, you can save a bit of money. These capsules are highly concentrated so they make for very potent pain relievers.
- DIY Cannabis Topicals– This basic salve is perfect to rub on stiff joints or gently brush over an injury site. If you continue to have chronic pain in one area post-injury, this is a great external product to use to naturally numb the affected area and decrease inflammation.
- Marijuana Tea– This recipe relies on cannabutter to make the tea psychoactive. If you’d like to experiment with easy relief for aching bones, you can opt to make butter out of either a THC-based strain or a strain high in CBD. Both substances are fat-soluble. If you’d rather not have a psychoactive experience or want to reap the full benefits of CBD, opt to make your butter with one of these top strains.
As always, we won’t have clear answers as to how exactly marijuana affects our bones until clinical trials are completed. However, there is extremely strong evidence that compounds in cannabis may help prevent brittle bones and preserve bone health. It’s been shown in animal models that CBD can help broken bones heal faster as well as halt the progression of arthritis. The plant also works wonders in treating the pain and inflammation surrounding bone breaks and fractures.
Have you used marijuana to cope with a break? What about osteoporosis or arthritis? Share your experience with us on social media or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what you have to say!