Approximately 15 million Americans and Canadians over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and 80% of them are women. An additional 34 million have low bone mass which predisposes them to developing osteoporosis. New research is now revealing that the endocannabinoid system plays a significant natural roll in the development of bone mass, leading to the question of whether or not medicinal cannabis can play a roll in fighting osteoporosis.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a degenerative skeletal disease characterized by a deterioration of bone tissue. The word osteoporosis means “porous bones,” and is associated with the aging process. It is a condition in which our bones lose their mineral content and mass, becoming more fragile and prone to fractures. Any bones can be affected, but the hip and spine are the most vulnerable. Patients with osteoporosis are at risk for suffering multiple fractures and other serious disabilities. Medications commonly prescribed for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis come with side effects. Biphosphonate medications such as Boniva, Fosamax, Reclast and Actonel are commonly prescribed for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, however, they come with side effects, the most common being nausea, upset stomach and inflammation of the esophagus. In addition, some patients experience bone, joint and muscle pain, cardiac arrhythmias, and a rare side effect called osteonecrosis (bone damage) of the jaw. Given the severe side effects of prescription drugs, a safe alternative is obviously being sought. And that safe alternative is cannabis.
Endocannabinoids and bone
Substances made in the body called endocannabinoids which are produced mainly in the brain, are present also in the bone. These substances bind to and activate two receptors, CB1 and CB2. Researchers discovered a high level of CB2 receptors in bone, and that this is required in order to preserve normal bone density. Researchers studied the skeletons of genetically engineered mice ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19656492 ) lacking the CB2 receptor. As they aged, these CB2-deprived mice developed severe osteoporosis, similar to that which appears in humans. Osteoporosis is the most widespread degenerative disease in developed countries and can lead to multiple fractures, disability and complications, and even death. The scientists’ findings have thus assigned, for the first time, a physiological function to CB2 in preserving bone density and showed that it stimulates bone building and reduces bone loss. This indicates that a cannabinoid (Marijuana based) anti-osteoporotic type drug that not only will help with Osteoporosis, but strengthen bones and promote faster healing of broken bones. The results show not only that the CB2 receptor is essential for the maintenance of a normal bone mass; they also open up completely new possibilities for therapy.
Marijuana accelerates bone healing
Researchers are particularly interested in looking at the effects of marijuana on bone healing, because pot use and broken bones are both fairly common. The researchers had previously found that cannabinoid receptors can stimulate bone formation. In the new study, the team injected rats that had broken thighbones with either CBD alone, or a combination of CBD and THC. The researchers found that CBD enhanced bone healing by strengthening the cartilage “bridge” that forms when a bone is on the mend. This cartilage gradually mineralizes and hardens into new bone. In rats treated with CBD, this collagen tissue was stronger, and the collagen molecules more tightly cross-linked with one another, compared to rats not treated with the marijuana compound. What this means, researchers wrote online May 10 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jbmr.2513/abstract ) , is that the healed bone in CBD-treated rats is less likely to break in the future compared to the healed bone in untreated rats. In fact, the treated bone is between 35 percent and 50 percent stronger.
In summary, it appears that the use of cannabis or cannabinoids for the prevention of osteoporosis may be a safer and more effective treatment than standard pharmaceuticals. In addition, cannabis can enhance the healing process with bone fractures.
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