More than 50 million Americans are suffering from arthritis – including one in every five adults, 300,000 children, and countless families. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States.
Arthritis is a general term that refers to inflammation of the joints. There are two common types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that where the body attacks its own joints and leads to painful inflammation. Swollen and stiff joints in the hands and feet are common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) on the other hand is a disease resulting from the wear and tear of joint cartilage and bones. Stiffness and pain in the hips, knees, and thumbs are common symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease while osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint pain throughout your body. It is a symmetrical disease, which means that symptoms occur on both sides of your body at the same time. If you feel pain in the joint of your right arm or leg, you will probably feel the same pain in the joint of your left arm or leg. This is one way for doctors to distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of inflammatory disease.
As an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis causes joint damage not because of normal wear and tear but because the body is attacking itself. Rheumatoid arthritis makes the body interpret the soft lining around the joints as a threat. It then reacts to it accordingly – by attacking it just like a virus or bacteria.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects smaller joints first – like the bones in your fingers. As the disease progresses, pain will extend to larger joints such as those in the shoulders, knees and ankles.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Severe pain
- Stiffness of the joints
- Swelling of the joints
- Loss of joint function
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease, which means that symptoms happen from time to time over a long period. When pain and inflammation set in, it is known as a flare. When the symptoms go away, the disease is in a period of remission.
What is osteoarthritis?
Similar to rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis comes with stiff and painful joints that make it difficult to move around.
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease. It is a degenerative disorder resulting from natural wear and tear of the joints. Old age or trauma often causes the cartilage around the joints to break down. When the cartilage that cushions the joint wears thin, the bones begin to rub against each other. This exposes the nerves and can be very painful.
While osteoarthritis is often seen in older adults, it can also happen to younger adults who overuse or injure a particular joint. This is most prevalent in tennis players and other athletes.
Osteoarthritis is not necessarily symmetrical – if you have pain in both of your knees, one side is probably worse than the other.
Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands and fingers as well as the hips, knees, and spinal column.
Although joints that are afflicted with osteoarthritis do swell after extended activity, the disease does not cause significant inflammatory reaction like redness of the joints.
Both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are more common in women than in men. Both forms of arthritis are also more prevalent in older adults although rheumatoid arthritis can develop at any age.
Rheumatoid arthritis is also known to run in families. If a parent or sibling has the disease, you have a high probability of developing the same condition.
CBD for arthritis
The CBD craze has kept scientists on their toes – grasping for information on how CBD oil can target the cause pain in RA and OA patients.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 80 active compounds – called cannabinoids – found in the cannabis plant. Unlike the cannabinoid delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol does not have psychoactive effects that can alter a person's mental state.
CBD oil can be extracted from cannabis buds and flowers, or from a fibrous form of cannabis called industrial hemp. CBD from industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% of THC.
There have been anecdotal reports that hemp CBD oil can relieve pain and inflammation associated with chronic conditions such as arthritis.
How does CBD for arthritis work?
The human body produces its own cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) receives and translates signals from these cannabinoids to regulate pain, sleep, and immune-system responses.
CBD could possibly help mitigate the symptoms of arthritis by altering how these receptors respond to pain signals.
When THC binds to the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, it activates the brain's reward system – which in turn produces dopamine and creates euphoria. CBD also attaches to the CB2 receptor which is responsible for managing pain and inflammation.
CBD interacts with these receptors 100 times weaker than THC so you do not get high.
According to one study posted to Neurotherapeutics, one way that CBD helps reduce pain is by preventing the body from absorbing anandamide so it stays in the bloodstream and helps regulate pain.
The CB2 receptor plays an important role in the human immune system. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joint tissues. This relationship could explain why CBD oil seems to work well in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
The anti-inflammatory effects of CBD could also help slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and prevent permanent joint damage. Inhibiting inflammation might be able to reduce other rheumatoid arthritis symptoms such as fever and fatigue.
What does science say about CBD for arthritis?
There have been five animal studies so far on CBD for arthritis. They have explored how cannabidiol could help relieve the inflammatory pain associated with the disease.
In 2008, a review concluded that CBD is able to reduce chronic pain and improved sleep without any negative side effects.
CBD also helped reduce inflammatory pain in rats in a 2011 study. Researchers found that CBD could affect the way pain receptors respond to stimuli.
A scientific review in 2014 noted that CBD has shown promise as an effective treatment for osteoarthritis in animals.
Another study published in the European Journal of Pain in 2016 explored the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol. Researchers took a group of mice with arthritis and applied a CBD topical gel containing 0.6mg, 3.1mg, 6.2mg, and 62.3mg of cannabidiol. After four consecutive days of treatment, there was a significant reduction in inflammation and signs of pain in the affected joints with no reported side effects.
The following year, scientists again looked into a group of mice with osteoarthritis and found CBD to be an effective and safe treatment for joint pain.
Despite these findings, scientists are unable to present conclusive evidence that CBD is an effective treatment for humans who are suffering from arthritis.
The only CBD for arthritis study conducted on actual humans was back in 2006 when a controlled trial evaluated the efficacy, tolerability and safety of cannabis-based Sativex on the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis patients. After five weeks, researchers concluded that Sativex was able to significantly reduce inflammation and pain. The participants also reported improved sleep with very mild side effects. There is one caveat: Sativex is made from cannabis extracts containing both CBD and THC.
How to take CBD for arthritis
CBD can be taken as sublingual drops or as powder mixed into topical cream or gel. Therapeutic CBD salves are applied directly to the skin to help with stiff and swollen joints.
CBD oil may also be sprayed into the mouth or taken orally in capsule form. You can also add CBD oil to food or water. Bake brownies with CBD or splash a few spoonfuls into your favorite smoothie.
Consult your doctor before taking CBD oil. Cannabidiol content ranges from as little as 2.5 milligrams to more than 1,000 milligrams. Your physician should be able to recommend the best dosage for you. Start with a minimal dose of CBD and see how your body reacts. If you do not feel any relief, slowly increase your dosage.
Side effects of CBD for arthritis
Although CBD oil is not known to cause serious side effects, you might experience some mild discomfort especially if this is your first time supplementing on CBD. If you have been on arthritis medication for some time now, these side effects may even be more pronounced.
Side effects of CBD for arthritis may include:
- Change in appetite
Is CBD for arthritis legal?
In the United States, hemp CBD oil is legal in all states. Other forms of cannabis may be limited to medicinal applications in certain states.
Even if medical marijuana is legal in your area, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still classifies extracts as a Schedule 1 substance. Drugs, substances or chemicals that fall under this category are defined as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
How to find the best CBD for pain
A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than two thirds of CBD products sold online contained either higher or lower concentrations of the substance than their labels indicated. Some of them even had significant levels of THC.
When choosing a CBD oil product, make sure that you are buying from a trusted provider.
Although human studies are scarce, CBD for arthritis pain treatment looks very promising based on available data. Scientists have already unlocked the secret – how CBD can affect receptors in the brain and immune system to be able to significantly reduce arthritic inflammation. What the industry needs now are more studies on large numbers of human participants. Only then will we be able to fully understand how CBD can effectively treat arthritis symptoms.