Hemp oil for arthritis treatment needs investigation

Dear Dr. Roach: I have severe pain from osteoarthritis. I am able to get some relief with one tablet of 5/325 Norco a day. My doctor is trying to wean me off Norco, and some days I can manage with a half-tablet. To help control my pain, I have been using hemp oil with the Norco. I take up to three tablets a day. Hemp oil seems to be a new trend in combating severe arthritis pain. Would you please comment on this? — E.B.

Answer: Osteo­arthritis is the most common form of arthritis. While there is no cure, the pain often can be managed with judicious exercise, pain relievers like Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medicines like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen.

Opiates, like hydrocodone (Norco is a brand of a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone), are not usually used for people with osteoarthritis; they are less effective, have serious side effects, can lead to physiological tolerance and tend to lose effect over time. Some joints affected with osteoarthritis are treated with joint replacement.

Hemp oil contains many components of Cannabis sativa (marijuana), depending on the plant and on how it is extracted. No hemp oil sold legally in the U.S. contains THC, the primary chemical in marijuana responsible for the euphoria or “high.” However, other components of hemp oil have been shown to improve arthritis pain and inflammation. There is not yet enough high-quality data for me to recommend using hemp oil to treat arthritis. Further, it is difficult to know whether one is buying hemp oil with high amounts of cannabidiol (one component proven to have some potential for benefit).

Despite the unknowns, hemp oil has some promise and should be further studied. Opiates like hydroco­done are not a good choice.

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