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September 2, 2016

Does Cannabis Help Broken Bones Heal Faster?

Can you believe that cannabis can actually mend broken bones? It’s true, as CBD evidently reacts chemically with collagen, spurring along the healing process. Another very exciting find.

Researchers found that cannabidiol – an element of marijuana that does not get people high – improved the healing process in rats with broken leg bones after eight weeks, according to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research by Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University.

Yankel Gabet of Tel Aviv’s Bone Research Laboratory who led the study, said it found that the element “makes bones stronger during healing,” which could prevent future fractures. This process occurs as cannabidiol, or CBD, enhances the maturation of collagen, the protein in connective tissue that “holds the body together.”

“After being treated with CBD, the healed bone will be harder to break in the future,” Gabet said in a news release.

The results of the study provide another glimpse into the potential health benefits of marijuana. Medicinal marijuana is already used to reduce some of the effects associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients. It is also used as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In earlier research, Gabet’s team learned that the body’s cannabinoid receptors “stimulated bone formation and inhibited bone loss.” Those findings open doors to how marijuana could treat osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases, the researchers say.

Marijuana is still largely illegal across the world and in the United States. But marijuana prescribed for medical uses is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” alongside heroin and LSD. Although that classification is unlikely to change this year, attempts and events that challenge marijuana’s status in the nation have not gone unnoticed.

"All the current clinical treatments for osteoporosis [have] been successfully tested in rodents prior to clinical settings," Gabet wrote in an email to Live Science. "While there is no certainty, these findings hold promise for the potential clinical applicability of using CBD for fracture healing in humans."

Marijuana produces its effects by triggering the receptors that respond to compounds called endocannabinoids, cannabislike molecules that the body synthesizes naturally. In the brain, pot acts on these receptors to cause mind-altering effects. But cannabinoid receptors are found all over the body, leading some researchers to think that pot compounds might have medical applications beyond helping cancer patients regain their appetites or get relief from pain.

Gabet said he and his team were particularly interested in looking at the effects of cannabis on bone healing, because pot use and broken bones are both fairly common.

"It is likely that many patients suffering from bone fractures consume cannabis that may have beneficial or adverse effects on the healing process," Gabet said.

The researchers had previously found that cannabinoid receptors can stimulate bone formation. In the new study, the team injected rats that had broken thighbones with either CBD alone, or a combination of CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the hallucinogenic ingredient in marijuana).

The researchers found that CBD enhanced bone healing by strengthening the cartilage "bridge" that forms when a bone is on the mend. This bridge is called the fracture callus; it's made of collagen, which then gradually mineralizes and hardens into new bone.

In rats treated with CBD, this collagen tissue was stronger, and the collagen molecules more tightly cross-linked with one another, compared to rats not treated with the marijuana compound. What this means, researchers wrote online May 10 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, is that the healed bone in CBD-treated rats is less likely to break in the future compared to the healed bone in untreated rats. In fact, the treated bone is between 35 percent and 50 percent stronger. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

THC was not necessary to get this bone boost, the researchers also found.

"There is no need to be exposed to the euphoric effects of cannabis/THC to get the beneficial functions of CBD on bone," Gabet said.

The CBD compound has potential for treating osteoporosis, said Dr. Deborah Kado, a bone health specialist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, who is also on the scientific board of Kalytera Therapeutics, a company investigating the medical use of cannabinoids. Kado was not involved in the current study.

Osteoporosis, a condition of weak or brittle bones, often occurs with age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density, and the disease causes approximately 2 million bone fractures each year.

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