Our bones are are in a perpetual state of being dismantled and refurbished, like an aging European city. In a healthy adult, about 10 percent of bone mass is reabsorbed and replaced every year. Can cannabis help fight osteoporosis and keep bones strong?
A good diet, rich in calcium, promotes skeletal health by keeping bone reabsorption and replacement in balance. Aging, unfortunately, does not. Osteoporosis is an age-related condition in which bone replacement slows but reabsorption chugs along as normal. What’s less well known about osteoporosis is that, as our bone metabolism gets worse at making actual bone, it starts making more fat instead. So, yes, as we age, we do indeed get fatter everywhere.
Related Story: Little-Known Health Effects Of Medical Marijuana
The medical literature on the potential of cannabis to ward off osteoporosis dates back to the 1990s, but there’s not been any clinical trials. Several more recent studies suggest that this should change.
In a 2009 study, researchers at the University of Edinburgh presented their findings on mice that lacked the cannabinoid receptor CB1. These specimens grew thick bones but were much more susceptible to age-related bone loss. Moreover, their old and freakishly stout bones were full of holes that were full of fat, rather than marrow.
But fat in bones is not always a bad thing. A 2011 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that fatty acid amides (FAAs) may help protect our skeleton by inhibiting the creation of bone-absorbing cells. (Following so far?) In addition, they found that CB2 receptors protect FAAs by inhibiting the production of FAAH, an enzyme that is their mortal foe. (What a difference a single letter can make!) In other words, our cannabinoid system protects our skeleton by protecting FAAs which limit the body’s production of bone-eating maintenance cells.
Related Story: Why Won’t My Doctor Prescribe Medical Marijuana For Me?
How these two studies fit together is not clear. What is obvious, however, is that our cannabinoid receptors play an important role in the maintenance of healthy bones. Further study is warranted. But there is a logjam of good ideas in cannabis research, and approval at the federal level is slow and restrictive, so we might be waiting a long time.