Legal Herbs for Bones

Can cannabis help my bones? Now that it’s available without a prescription in Canada, many people are wondering if this is yet another herb that promotes bone growth.

It’s not surprising that there’s been a shortage of well-controlled studies. Canada prohibited cannabis use in 1923 – long before osteoporosis had a name. Since 2001, doctors in Canada have been allowed to prescribe medicinal forms to manage certain specific conditions; these don’t include low bone density, and the drug has carried such a stigma that most doctors have been reluctant to prescribe it.

Some studies have tried correlating bone density with self-reported use of illegal cannabis, but of course it’s hard for those to take into account confounding factors, like other drug use, diet, or lifestyle habits. Results have been contradictory.

And as Diane Dawber points out, some symptoms that have prompted people to resort to cannabis – pain, anxiety, and poor sleep – can be caused in the first place by nutrient deficiencies.

So is anything clear about how cannabis affects our bones? A 2009 study looked at mutant mice, and concluded that cannabis may help maintain bone remodelling in some postmenopausal women – depending on our genetic variations.

More recently, a 2015 study of rats with broken legs compared how they healed while taking two different components of cannabis – THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the psychoactive part of cannabis, the part that makes people high. CBD doesn’t have a psychoactive effect, so hasn’t been the major driver of the black market; however, some of its medicinal benefits, including for pain and inflammation management, are well-documented. In the study, while THC didn’t affect bone healing, CBD helped the osteoblasts (the bone-building cells), and measurably accelerated healing.

This could be good news for non-rodent Canadians like me, especially for those of us who simply want to be as well as possible, without complicating our lives with psychoactive effects. I expect that public interest will spawn new studies, so that neophytes can find out what forms and dosages will help which conditions.

In the meantime, I’m holding onto the bone-sustaining principles that are sure and established: Eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods, supplement the nutrients I don’t absorb well, and get the right kinds of exercise.

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