Research Update: Caffeine, Marijuana and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Mark Borigini, M.D. Health Pro July 27, 2006
  • I was in Berkeley, California a couple of weeks ago, and was struck by the prevalence of Starbuck’s coffee and marijuana among the fine citizens of that liberal city. And as luck would have it, there have recently been research findings presented on the topics of caffeine and marijuana and their effects upon patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

    There have always been concerns that caffeine, found in tea, coffee, colas and chocolate might adversely impact the efficacy of methotrexate. Caffeine is a methylxanthine, which reverses the positive benefits of methotrexate at the cellular level. So the researchers, writing in the Journal of Rheumatology earlier this year, determined the caffeine intake of rheumatoid arthritis patients and assessed its influence on response to methotrexate. The average daily caffeine intake was equivalent to that found in almost two cups of coffee each day; the researchers studied patients who had low, moderate,and high intake of caffeine.

    The researchers found there was no difference in methotrexate efficacy among the three caffeine-intake groups in terms of swollen and painful joints or in terms of duration of morning stiffness and functional capability.

    The recent annual congress of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR 2006) was held this past June in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. One of the studies presented dealt with Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine, which is administered by oromucosal spray. The hypothesis as to how Sativex may help sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis is based on the purported existence of cannabinoid receptors which modulate pain perception and immune response.

    This study found improvement in morning pain and quality of sleep—as one might imagine. Further, as one might imagine, side effects included impaired balance, hallucinations and an increased appetite. But there were certainly no major improvements in tender and swollen joints.

    In conclusion, the legalize-marijuana lobby certainly in my opinion received no support from this recent study, and the caffeine addicts can keep on paying more for a cup of coffee than they do for a gallon of gas.

    To paraphrase Dr. Timothy Leary, tune in and turn on next time for the latest updates on rheumatoid arthritis.