Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, debilitating disease with no cure. According to the Arthritis Society of Canada, one in five Canadians live with this inflammatory disease that affects not only the joints, but other parts of the body too. 

“It’s not just an old person’s disease,” says Linda Wilhelm, the President of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance (CAPA). “It affects people of all ages, including children and young adults. It’s no less serious than other diseases that get a lot of attention.”

Wilhelm, who has been living with the painful effects of rheumatoid arthritis for the past 30 years, is a passionate advocate for people with arthritis. One of the biggest issues they face is access to treatment. 

According to Wilhelm, access to prescription drugs, some of which can be quite expensive, is all over the map. Access is not consistent. It often depends on where you live and whether you have private insurance (which many people don’t). To further complicate matters, provincial drug plans are all different. “We work with different levels of government and the pharmaceutical industry so people will have the right drugs,” says Wilhelm.

Disease-modifying drugs, which target the cells in the body causing the inflammation inherent in rheumatoid arthritis, are the first line of medications used. To ease the chronic pain, some arthritics use opioids, such as Tylenol 3 or other drugs with codeine, but the recent opioid crisis — which has the government implementing new, restrictive policies to combat addiction — has restricted access. Because of this, some people are switching from opioids to medicinal cannabis.

“While more study is needed on the benefits of cannabis, we believe that if people are finding pain relief from it, then they should have access to the treatment,” says Wilhelm. “We’ve come to learn that everyone responds differently to arthritis, which is why we need all forms of treatment approved, so that more people can benefit.” 

Improved access to medicinal cannabis as an alternative to opioids would increase the pain relief options for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. When it comes to health care, there truly is no one-size-fits-all solution. Wilhelm encourages patients to be advocates for themselves, to fight for their right to access to treatment, and to be open-minded when it comes to that treatment. Although unconventional, cannabis is an all-natural treatment that has been showing results in clinical trials. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, talk to your doctor to see if cannabis may be a good option for you.

Learn more about your options and find out if you are fit at GreenMedNetwork.com, a non-profit offering free, confidential medical marijuana consultations.