Managing Arthritis

Medical Cannabis Edibles

Pieces of chocolate

Medical Cannabis Edibles

More and more people are exploring medical cannabis as a treatment option for their arthritis. While cannabis can’t cure arthritis or slow disease progression, some people report that it helps to alleviate their symptoms of pain, inflammation and anxiety.  As one method of consumption, you may have heard of cannabis edibles, which are now legal for purchase in Canada.  While cannabis edibles are available through the recreational cannabis market, they are not yet widely available through the medical cannabis market.  

The purpose of this article is to help you better understand cannabis edibles so that you can make informed decisions about your treatment plan.  The Arthritis Society recommends that cannabis be purchased only through medical channels to ensure appropriate dosing as well as monitoring of effects and symptoms. "Medical cannabis" refers to any products made from cannabis intended for health purposes. While non-medicinal cannabis is now legal in Canada, it is advised to obtain a document for medical cannabis from an authorized healthcare professional and to purchase the cannabis through a Health Canada Licensed Producer.  Self-medicating with recreational cannabis is not a safe substitute for supervised medical care and as such, it is advised that you use medical cannabis through the means of consumption recommended by your doctor or authorized nurse practitioner.      

This article aims to help answer some of the frequently asked questions about edibles.  Medical cannabis won’t replace your regular arthritis medications but may bring some relief alongside them.  To maximize benefit, cannabis should be used in conjunction with other arthritis management strategies, such as therapeutic exercise and weight management, if appropriate. THC and CBD are the key active ingredients in medical cannabis. Like other medications, there can be drug interactions and as such, it is imperative that your all of your health care providers (including your pharmacist) are aware of the cannabis and any over-the-counter and prescription medications you are taking. 

What are edibles?

“Edibles” is the term used to describe cannabis-infused foods. Cannabis edibles can take many forms, such as cookies, brownies, candies, caramels or chocolate.  Butter can also be infused with cannabis and added to other food items. In Canada, there are strict regulations on the strength of THC used in edibles, along with regulations around packaging and promotion to ensure the packaging is safe and that the product is not enticing to children.

What’s in an edible?

Any edible, such as a gummy candy or a cookie, will have a certain amount of THC and/or CBD. THC is the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, that feeling of euphoria or being “high.” CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive and won’t make you feel high.  It may even help counteract the effects of THC.  You can get edibles with mostly CBD, mostly THC, or a mixture of both.  Edibles have a maximum of 10 mg of THC per package according to Health Canada regulations.  

If you are using medical cannabis for the first time, it’s recommended to start with a CBD-dominant product at the lowest dose, and gradually increase your dosage until your symptom needs are met, introducing THC in small amounts only if needed.  For cannabis-infused foods, it’s important to exercise caution and take small amounts with lower doses of THC, as the effects of edibles can be stronger than other forms of cannabis and may result in more pronounced side effects. Although edibles contain a maximum of 10 mg of THC, this amount, for individuals who have not used edibles in the past, can result in unwanted side effects. It is best to start low and go slow. 

How do they work?

Cannabis-infused foods are processed by the digestive system and can take up to 2 hours to begin to feel the effects and longer to reach peak effects. This means it will take longer to feel if the cannabis is having the desired result. Both CBD and THC can help with pain relief. CBD can help address inflammation, anxiety and poor sleep.  Small doses of THC can also help with nausea and low appetite.

If it’s the first time you’re trying edibles, use caution and take small amounts with lower doses of THC. Due to the length of time it takes for CBD and THC to enter your system in edible form, some people may take too much because they think the first dose was ineffective. Since it can take up to 2 hours before you feel the effects, be sure to wait before having another small amount. 

How can I access edibles?

People authorized by a doctor or nurse practitioner to purchase medical cannabis must do so through a licensed seller by submitting their medical document and registering.  You can search the Government of Canada’s list of Licensed cultivators, processors and sellers of cannabis under the Cannabis Act and filter by those who have a license for medical cannabis by entering the word “medical” in the Filter box.  The column “to registered patients” will identify whether a license holder is authorized to sell edibles.  

If you are considering using cannabis edibles, it is advised to purchase these through a federally-regulated medical cannabis channel.  Recreational cannabis is not intended for health purposes and while some people experiment with making edibles on their own, this can lead to unpredictable results, unwanted side effects, and may not be safe.

You can learn more about using medical cannabis safely in our Medical Cannabis hub.

This information was reviewed in November 2020 with expert advice from:

Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, MD, CCFP(AM), MRO, DABAM
Chief Medical Review Officer, DriverCheck Inc.
Physician, Addiction Medicine