It is not often we stop to think about just how much we depend on our bones to keep us healthy and functional throughout the day. While it’s common knowledge that our bones serve a physical purpose- to define the shape of our bodies, protect our organs, and provide the support for our muscles to allow movement to occur.
They also serve a very important role how our body manages its internal environment- from storing minerals and fat, balancing our body’s PH levels… and even helping our bodies produce and manage its blood cells.
Unfortunately, we can underestimate how much our health can be impacted when something goes wrong. Bones, like any other part of the body, can get sick. And usually the result can be quite severe. Most- if not all of us eventually become faced with a common problem- fractures and breaks. And just like our understanding of our skeleton, there can be more consequences than what is the most obvious.
Unfortunately, there are few approved treatments for curing bone disease, or improving healing rate of fractures and breaks outside of the standard norm of casting and bolts. Quality of life drastically reduces during recovery, and managing social and fiscal responsibilities becomes an additional burden- especially when we are looking after loved ones.
The more time spent on recovery, further weighs down on Quality of life.
However, what if there was something else we could take- not only help move things along but also something that actually strengthens our bones? A clinically proven way to ensure that the next time we break a bone may as well be one of the last.
Recent research has suggested that, in fact, Cannabis may hold a potential key to improving bone health and treating bone disease in ways we did not recognize before.
The Burden of Bone Disease
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones which occurs within the normal aging process when the body becomes less efficient at replacing minerals. As a result, bone structures become thin and brittle- losing density and becoming prone to injury. The high-risk groups usually involve the elderly or socially disadvantaged- meaning that they are the most vulnerable to severe consequences.
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Statistics from the National Osteoporosis Foundation indicate that at least 54 million Americans have osteoporosis, and that the disease is responsible for causing at least 9 million bone fractures worldwide annually. In fact, about 1 in 3 women- and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, worldwide each year.
This is a very profound number, meaning the burden of bone health weighs quite heavily on society in general.
Cannabis As a Treatment?
Current treatment options will often suggest including- or increasing your intake of supplements to contribute to bone health. However, while taking supplementations (such as Calcium or Vitamin D), in addition to a proper nutritional diet has proven to increase healing success rates- it can be slow, and a recent analysis found it only accounts to for a modest difference (an increase in bone density from 0.6% to 1.8%). The difference is not enough to actively prevent fractures or injury.
So while supplements still actively contribute to healthy bones- it has not been to the extent that we have been led to believe for many years. There is an unfinished picture waiting to be completed in regards to our understanding of how we can heal our bones through disease and injury.
Interestingly, recent studies have begun to suggest that is where Marijuana may come in. The secret lies in one of the chemical compounds within marijuana- Cannabidiol (CBD).
Current Debate on Cannabis and Bone Health
Is Cannabis good or bad for our bones? A concurrent belief regarding cannabis warns about the plant’s contribution to causing brittle bones and fractures. But is this true- and if so, what are the pieces required to create the bigger picture?
Investigating the influence of Marijuana in bone health is currently the hot topic of debate in research. So far, incoming results from different sources have begun to more clearly define the pro’s and con’s of cannabis use, and how we might understand the role of the endocannabinoid system in regards to keeping our skeleton healthy. But what do we know so far?
Let us examine what we currently know, about the link between marijuana and our bones.
The Cons- Heavy Cannabis Use makes our bones weaker.
A recent Scottish study recorded and compared the bone density of heavy-cannabis users against regular tobacco users. The results confirmed that heavy cannabis users had weaker bone structures than their tobacco counterparts, and were twice as likely to experience fractures. The results also showed that this observation was only seen in the participants who had reported to have had smoked cannabis for no less than 5 occasions every day, for at least 25 years (that’s approximately about 47,000 times in their lifetime).
They also found that moderate users had little to no impact whatsoever.
“Only the heavy users are showing these effects, and they are relatively small,”– Professor Easywine- Psychology Professor, State University New York.
Conclusively, the study confirmed that they were unable to find a direct-causative relationship between smoking cannabis and low bone-density, but identified heavy cannabis use as a serious concern for long-term bone health. Previous animal studies have determined that marijuana can impact the bone’s ability to regrow, supporting the results observed in the human-based study.
Easywine also explains that smoking cannabis also may promote other deleterious effects on health by impacting dietary intake and exercise. Another study supported these claims, and also highlighted an additional observation of lowered Body Mass Indexes in heavy users.
The takeaway point of the studies was to highlight that too much Cannabis can be bad for our bones.
However, this exercises the reminder that taking any substance should be practiced in moderation– and that attention to other aspects of health should still be promoted.
The Pros- Cannabidiol, a Potential Cure?
On the other side of the coin, studies have begun to emerge which investigate the positive influences that cannabis may have in how we approach treatment for bone disease and repair. Lower bone density has been clearly distinct in populations of heavy marijuana users- this revelation has spurred scientists to discover the link between cannabis and our bones in greater detail.
For example, this knowledge has prompted scientists such as Dr Yankel Gabet and his team to explore the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and bones.
“It is likely that many patients suffering from bone fractures consuming cannabis that may have beneficial or adverse effects on the healing process,” – Dr Yankel Gabet observed.
Dr Yankel Gabet, a researcher of bone healing and remodeling at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine in Tel Aviv University hosted a recent study in 2015, which explored cannabinoids and their potential use for treating osteoporosis and bone repair.
In particular, his team has started to look at the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in bone healing using rats. They compared the healing rate of two groups- those that were treated with CBD, and those that had not.
The results showed that after an 8-week period, the group that received CBD had healed much further than their counterparts. In fact, the researchers found that the treated bones from the CBD group were at least 35 – 50 percent stronger than the bones that received non CBD treatment.
“The clinical potential of cannabinoid-related compounds is simply undeniable at this point.“ – Dr Yankel Gabet
The findings hold promising news about Cannabidiol, according to Dr Gabet. “While there is still a lot of work to be done to develop appropriate therapies, it is clear that it is possible to detach a clinical therapy objective from the psychoactivity of cannabis. CBD, the principal agent in our study, is primarily anti-inflammatory and has no psychoactivity.”
Another earlier study published in London also supported this view. The clinical trial treated osteoarthritis in rodents by injecting them with pure CBD. The results revealed a highly positive result, with the progression of the disease stopping in its tracks.
From a growing body of evidence, it is becoming clear that CBD has a hugely beneficial role to play in healing our bones and helping to manage debilitating diseases such as Osteoporosis.
Cannabidiol….. How does it work?
It is already understood that CBD has displayed many wonderful properties for promoting health and healing – whilst lacking the psychoactive effects of its chemical-cousin, THC. This makes it an attractive candidate for medicinal uses, especially when we begin looking at generic treatments or supplementation to therapy.
Previously, there has been much discussion on the potential benefit of targeting the endocannabinoid system in medicine- as its location and effects are far-reaching throughout the body.
The presence of CB2 receptors has been found within the skeleton. This leads scientists to strongly speculate that cannabinoids have a critical role to play in regulating the health of our bones.
The skeletal system in the body plays host to its very own endocannabinoid enzymes and cannabinoid receptors.., and while the complete mechanism of CBD is still not fully understood, scientists have evidence to believe that CBD helps promote the synthesis (or “growth”) of bone mass during repair.
How is this achieved? Scientists are still discovering- and in fact, working on current theories.
A study in 2015 attempted to understand the relationship between CBD and fracture repair by examining the composition of the bones as they healed in a group of rodents.
When injured, the bone will start going through several stages of healing and repair.
Eventually, the bones will reach a stage where they will form a Callus– a soft tissue formed to bridge broken bones into place while they heal properly. The study examined the impact of either CBD, THC…or a combination of both, as a therapy.
The results of the study showed that the formation of the Callus in the CBD-group were both stronger and tougher. They concluded that CBD appears to promote the healing process by helping the bridging process of tissue as the bone remodels and repairs.
Essentially, what the science is telling us in the present climate- is that our own body uses cannabinoids to heal broken bones- and that CBD appears to be the best candidate.
What To Look For In The Future?
The literature currently warns us about the effect of heavy-marijuana use in weakening bone structures. However, an emerging body of promising research has become to suggest that medically synthesized CBD, may in fact, grow to have great potential in strengthening our bone structures and improve healing rates in future treatment pathways. This would prove as a great asset in providing a natural, easily applied and non-invasive complementary treatment to helping our most vulnerable populations.
Unfortunately, there are still stepping stones in place before that goal is met. Many studies have arisen in the present climate to tackle the issue- and have been met with positive reviews from the scientific community. However, there are still great limitations to these studies.
The limitation is that they are mostly derived from rodent-based studies- and not from humans. Fortunately, these sort of studies have historically shown great success when eventually applied to humans…and it is the success of studies (just like these) which have opened the door for future research.
We can only know then……for sure, when the next step is taken. For now, we can appreciate the positive light that CBD deserves in our venture to understand the benefits it holds for future solutions to age-old problems.
Over consumption of marijuana can- and will, create some problems for you down the line if all other aspects of your health are not monitored and looked after as well (We are only human!). For the best interest of your health, it is advised to stay away from reaching for the CBD as your ‘go to’ treatment unless advised by a certified health professional.
As always… take any substance safely, and responsibly. And be mindful of the potential long-term consequences to your health.