Managing Arthritis

Medical cannabis: 5 things you should know

Medical cannabis consultation

More and more people are exploring medical cannabis as a part of their arthritis treatment plan. While cannabis cannot cure arthritis or slow the progression of the disease, some users report that it helps relieve their symptoms of pain, inflammation and anxiety. Similarly, some find that medical cannabis helps improve sleep quality and alleviates the nausea and loss of appetite caused by certain medications. To find out if medical cannabis might be an appropriate treatment option for you, the first step is to speak to your healthcare provider. 

Here are 5 important things to know when considering the possible health benefits of medical cannabis. 

What is medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis refers to any products made from cannabis, or its key active ingredients, intended for therapeutic health purposes. 

Both medical and recreational cannabis come from the same source, the Cannabis plant. However, medical cannabis consists of strains specifically chosen and developed for their therapeutic properties. Two key components of the cannabis plant are cannabinoids known as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). While THC can produce a “high” or euphoric feeling when used in sufficient quantity, CBD is non-euphoric, meaning it won’t make you feel “high” and can help counteract the effects of THC. For treatment of arthritis symptoms, it is recommended to start with a CBD product and introduce THC only if necessary.

You need a medical document to access medical cannabis

In Canada, the federal government regulates production and distribution of medical cannabis to ensure product safety and consistency. Accessing cannabis for medical purposes requires a medical document signed by an authorized healthcare professional. Although legal in Canada, self-medicating with recreational cannabis is not a safe substitute for supervised care by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

To determine if medical cannabis might be appropriate for you, your healthcare provider will assess your physical and mental health history, your diagnosis of arthritis, other physical or mental health conditions you might have, your reasons for considering medical cannabis and any medications you are taking. Always talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches you use as well. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.

Helpful tips on talking to your doctor about medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis is not for everyone

There are several factors that can make it unsafe for someone to use medical cannabis. There is an increased health risk for some groups, including: 

  • Children, teens, and young adults: The human brain does not finish developing until the age of 25, making youth more vulnerable to the health impacts of cannabis than most adults are.
  • People who are pregnant and breastfeeding: Using cannabis when pregnant could be harmful to both the adult and baby.
  • Individuals with a personal or family history of psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression: Cannabis may worsen the symptoms of depression or trigger a psychotic reaction.

There is no “one size fits all” approach

Medical cannabis can be taken orally (as an oil, capsule, or spray, for example), inhaled (through a vaporizer, for example) or applied topically. Smoking cannabis is never recommended for patients due to potential damage to the lungs. Depending on the type of product and consumption method, how quickly the effects are felt and how long those effects last can vary greatly.

There is no defined effective dose for medical cannabis, as dosage and effectiveness will vary significantly between people. That’s why it’s always important to work closely with your healthcare provider.

The cost of medical cannabis 

Medical cannabis is currently not covered by provincial health insurance plans. Some private/group insurance companies may cover medical cannabis. For example, medical cannabis is covered for Canadian veterans and retired RCMP officers. Some patients may also be able to use their Health/Healthcare Spending Accounts to cover the costs. Check with your insurance provider to confirm your coverage.

Medical cannabis is a tax-deductible medical expense, so make sure to save your receipts and claim your medication at tax return time.

Want to know more? Watch Medical Cannabis 101, an Arthritis Talk webinar with Dr. Shelley Turner, who shares her extensive knowledge about medical cannabis and early scientific evidence that suggests medical cannabis can benefit some people with arthritis.

Consult our medical cannabis resources at