Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints, creating chronic pain in those who suffer from it. For years, medical marijuana has been a popular option to relieve some of its symptoms, as it fights inflammation and relieves pain. The downside? Medical cannabis is not legal everywhere, and many people simply don’t want an arthritis treatment that makes them feel high.
This is where CBD comes in: with many of the virtues of marijuana and none of its psychoactive effects, CBD for arthritis offers a promising way of treating this painful condition. In this article, we examine how it affects your body, how it can be used to fight arthritis, and what the latest science tells us about its effects on joint pain.
Understanding arthritis: causes and treatments
Arthritis is a debilitating, painful disease that affects millions of adults, especially elderly people, throughout the world. It is characterized by inflammation and pain in the joints and sometimes even in the cartilage and bones. With time, arthritis can severely limit the range of motion of people suffering from it. In fact, it is the leading cause of disability in the U.S today. So what causes arthritis, and how can we treat it?
What is arthritis?
The first thing to know about arthritis is that it is a complex medical field, grouping over 200 rheumatic conditions. This means that there are at least a few different types of arthritis, which may have different causes. Some of the most frequent ones are:
- Old age (joints become sensitive and inflamed after having been in heavy use for years)
- Autoimmune (meaning that the body’s own immune system attacks joints and the surrounding tissue)
- Genetics (some people are predisposed to developing arthritis)
- Lifestyle (as with any inflammatory condition, things like diet and stress can have a drastic effect)
How can we treat it?
When it comes to treatment, there are a few different options. Because arthritis causes so much pain, the first step doctors usually take is to prescribe painkillers in the form of oral medication or topical creams.
If the arthritis is located in a particular area of the body, you may be advised to walk with a cane or a walker to reduce pressure on those sensitive points.
Finally, hip and knee surgery is a common way to fight arthritis when cartilage has worn thin.
Unfortunately, all of these different treatment options are only ways to deal with the symptoms of arthritis. None of them can actually cure the condition. But when it comes to finding new ways to alleviate pain and gain mobility back, CBD could be of great help. Here’s how.
What is CBD and how does it work?
CBD is a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. Like its cousin THC, CBD has a range of medicinal properties. For example, it has been found to be effective in treating epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, and many other conditions. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning that it doesn’t cause a “high.” This makes it particularly appealing to those looking for an alternative to medical marijuana.
In fact, CBD has been rapidly growing in popularity over recent years. This oil is obtained from cannabis and is manufactured through a process known as “decarboxylation,” which activates the cannabinoids found in cannabis. Nowadays, CBD can be found in the form of an oil, in edible chews or gummies, in capsules and in topical creams and salves.
Non-prescription CBD products are not currently approved by the FDA. However, research suggests that this molecule is effective in treating a number of conditions. We recommend consulting with a medical professional to see if prescription CBD could help your condition.
How does CBD work on the body?
Once activated, cannabinoids like CBD can have an effect on our bodies by targeting the endocannabinoid system. Found in all mammals, this system is in part responsible for managing pain and inflammation, as well as regulating things like mood and appetite. The endocannabinoid system can be affected by a couple of things, including cannabinoids like CBD and THC. This is because these compounds interact with CB1 and CB2, two receptors that control pain and inflammation.
We know that the endocannabinoid system controls pain and inflammation. We also know that CBD has the power to impact this system. But does the research actually show any effects of CBD on arthritis? Let’s have a look at the data.
What we know so far
When it comes to using CBD for arthritis, the good news is many studies show that CBD can be an effective method of treatment. The bad news is that most of these studies have been conducted on rats and other animals.
For example, a 2017 study conducted on rats found that ingesting cannabidiol reduced pain and nerve damage in rats suffering from osteoarthritis. In 2016, a similar study found that CBD could reduce joint pain in rats. This time, the study was conducted by putting a CBD ointment on the skins of the rats, rather than giving them CBD orally. Both these studies concluded that CBD was a very effective remedy against arthritis… for rats at least.
But how applicable are these studies for humans? The first thing to note about CBD is that it derives many of its medicinal properties from its ability to impact the endocannabinoid system. This system exists in humans as well as other mammals and regulates our mood, appetite, pain and inflammation, among other things.
Of course, this does not mean that a substance that has a certain effect on rats will have the same effects on humans. After all, doses of CBD given to rats are often much stronger given their total weight. Nevertheless, we do have reason to believe that CBD could relieve arthritis in people.
A 2006 study conducted on a group of people with arthritis found that cannabis had the ability to reduce pain and inflammation in the body, alleviating symptoms of arthritis. Unfortunately, this study preceded the development of medical CBD as a field, and so patients were administered a product that contained both CBD and THC. While it is hard to determine which of CBD or THC had the most effect on arthritis, it’s safe to assume that CBD played a part in the effects observed.
While they did not focus on arthritis in particular, there were also a couple of experiments showing the effects of CBD on chronic and inflammatory pain (in humans!). For example, this 2008 review looks at some effects of different cannabinoids on pain. This 2012 study examined the effects of cannabinoids on inflammatory and neuropathic types of pain. They both found that cannabinoids in general and CBD in particular could be very effective in treating chronic pain.
How to take CBD for arthritis
CBD products come in all shapes, sizes, tastes and colors! Some of the most popular ways to use CBD for arthritis are as an oral medication and in topical form.
Oral forms of CBD include CBD drops, sprays and capsules, as well as edibles like gummies and chews. For long-term conditions like arthritis, it’s recommended to take CBD regularly, preferably every day. In fact, many of the benefits of CBD seem to come with prolonged use, so the longer you try CBD, the more likely you are to see results. In terms of dosage, a doctor who is well versed in CBD will be able to give you some indications. The dose will depend on your levels of pain and inflammation, as well as what you are able to tolerate. In general, 20 to 50 mg of CBD daily are enough to see results for inflammatory conditions.
Another popular form of taking CBD is to use a vaporizer. CBD-based oils can be used in most vapes and are a way of consuming CBD through inhalation. But with vaping as with any sort of smoking, there are some consequences on the respiratory system. Nevertheless, many are those who consider vaping a good way of taking CBD as it provides quick relief from pain.
Topical forms of CBD for arthritis include CBD-infused creams, balms and salves. These are meant to be used directly on the zone in pain and massaged into the skin. In terms of pain treatment, topicals can be one of the best ways to get fast pain relief. They are also very unlikely to cause any side effects. Unless you have a physical reaction to one of the components of the cream you are using, there is no reason for the CBD to cause side effects, regardless of the dose.
Is taking CBD safe for arthritis? If you are only using topicals on your joints, then CBD oil for arthritis has a great safety profile. If you’re also trying out oral forms of CBD, you may want to be more careful. In some people, CBD has been known to cause nausea, changes in appetite, and more rarely changes in mood like increased irritability. However, those side effects are rare, and CBD is generally considered a very safe form of treatment for arthritis.
Addressing both the inflammation and the pain caused by arthritis, CBD is a substance that could help make the lives of people with neuropathic pain a lot easier. As of yet, more clinical studies on humans are needed. But with a great safety profile and some proven benefits on inflammatory and neuropathic pain, CBD is worth trying out for anyone with painful joints. So don’t hesitate to give CBD capsules or CBD creams a try. And remember, its effects can take a bit of time to be fully felt, so you may have to be patient.
Arthritis facts and figures
CBD for arthritis
2017 study on the effect of cannabidiol on pain and nerve damage for osteoarthritis
2016 study on the effects of CBD on rat arthritis
Medical cannabis for arthritis
2006 study of the effects of cannabis on rheumatoid arthritis
CBD for pain
2012 study on the effects of CBD for pain management (inflammatory and neuropathic)
2008 study on the effects of CBD for pain management
Safety profile of CBD
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD