A team of Chinese scientists has discovered that cannabinoids help prevent the progression of osteoarthritis by inhibiting a protease enzyme associated with the degradation of joint cartilage. Cannabinoid treatments are effective for reducing osteoarthritis-related cartilage breakdown, according to a new study published in Molecular Medicine Reports. Osteoarthritis is caused by “wear and tear” on the body’s joints. Over time, cartilage between joints breaks down, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. A research team at China’s The Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University examined the effect of a synthetic cannabinoid on a group of metalloproteinases known to contribute to cartilage breakdown and the progression of osteoarthritis. The researchers, led by Ying Kong, found that the cannabinoid effectively inhibited the activity of the metalloproteinase group. The findings suggest that cannabinoids protect cartilage cells and delay the joint space narrowing associated with arthritis. “In conclusion, to the best of our knowledge, the present study provides the first in vitro evidence supporting that the synthetic cannabinoid… inhibits [metalloproteinase activity],” Kong wrote in the study’s conclusion. “This suggests a novel mechanism by which cannabinoids may prevent cartilage breakdown in [osteoarthritis].” The study’s results propose that cannabis could potentially play an active role in treating osteoarthritis, which affects 20 million people in the United States.