CBD and Arthritis: What does the research say?
Written by Zaneta Pacific and reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU
- Arthritis is a painful condition that affects the joints.
- Anyone can get arthritis, regardless of their age or gender.
- Studies have shown that cannabinoids, such as CBD, may have potential therapeutic effects on people with arthritis.
The Arthritis Foundation has recently released recommendations on using CBD when suffering from arthritis. These guidelines are a response to an ever–increasing number of patients asking how to use CBD safely and effectively.
As more people reach out for CBD supplements, and health organisations are opening up to the possibility of considering CBD as a helpful tool, one question remains – is this backed by scientific evidence?
It is estimated that over 10 million people in the UK alone have arthritis – a painful condition affecting the joints in the human body.
How the disease is experienced can vary significantly from person to person. It depends on the type of arthritis one suffers from, the level of inflammation, and how far along the illness has progressed.
While some people might only experience mild discomfort, others may experience severe pain or a significant change in their mobility.
As there is currently no known cure for arthritis, patients are usually prescribed medication to help slow down the progress of the disease, and are often advised on how to manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication.
So what is the relationship between CBD and arthritis, and can you benefit from it?
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is not a single disease. Instead, it’s a word used to describe a set of painful joint conditions, often caused by inflammation, age, injuries, obesity, or environmental conditions.
Types of arthritis
There are many different types of arthritis, some of which can affect anyone regardless of age or gender.
The most common forms of arthritis are degenerative arthritis and inflammatory arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis, a form of degenerative arthritis, is associated with the ageing process. While it also involves mild levels of inflammation, the pain is usually due to changes in the joints caused by simple "wear and tear".
- Contrary to degenerative arthritis, inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis (and even gout), is caused by an incorrect response from our immune system. Therefore, it is classified as an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks healthy tissue, which leads to joint damage and pain.
It is not clear why people experience inflammatory arthritis, but research suggests it might have something to do with a combination of genetic predispositions and environmental factors, which can trigger an incorrect response from the immune system.
Currently, there are no known cures for any type of arthritis. Instead, doctors focus mainly on preventing any further damage to the joints of people affected by this condition, calming the inflammation and limiting pain and discomfort related to joint damage and inflammation.
What is CBD?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. This non-intoxicating cannabinoid is legal, safe and available in most European countries.
CBD can be used as a supplement and as an active ingredient in various cosmetics, including creams, lotions and gels. In Europe, CBD is extracted primarily from hemp, known for its high levels of CBD and low levels of THC (the controlled cannabinoid that is associated with intoxication).
The popularity of CBD is mostly attributed to its ability to interact with the Endocannabinoid System. Through this interaction, CBD has the potential to help support various processes in the human body, including the immune system, pain management, and the body's response to stress.
Could CBD potentially help with arthritis?
Before we talk about the relationship between CBD and arthritis, we need to clarify that there is no scientific evidence to support using CBD instead of prescription medication.
Saying that, early evidence is promising, as pointed out by the Arthritis Society. Multiple animal studies suggest CBD may indeed have both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
For example, the results of a 2015 study on the impact of transdermal CBD (applied directly on the skin) on arthritis in rats indicates that CBD might have therapeutic potential for inflammation and pain related to arthritis.
This is also supported by anecdotal evidence from people with rheumatoid arthritis who have used CBD oil and shown signs of improvement in their symptoms, such as pain, anxiety and sleeping problems.
With more research being done every day, there seems to be a lot of promising potential, and the future looks bright.
CBD oil and arthritis
Anecdotal evidence is not all we have.
More and more researchers are exploring the potential relationship between arthritis and CBD, as well as other compounds found in cannabis (such as THC and CBG).
Those with osteoarthritis might be interested in an animal study from 2017 that explored CBD's impact on this specific type of arthritis.
The results suggest CBD might block osteoarthritis pain and even prevent further damage to joints affected by this kind of arthritis.
And what about CBD and rheumatoid arthritis?
To understand how CBD oil can help support people with rheumatoid arthritis, we should remember that this particular type of arthritis is mainly caused by inflammation. An article published in the Current Opinion in Rheumatology Journal discusses how cannabinoids, such as CBD, might have the ability to show anti-inflammatory effects by interacting with the receptors in the Endocannabinoid System. This interaction between the Endocannabinoid System, CBD and arthritis has also been demonstrated in many other preclinical models, including those exploring inflammatory arthritis.
CBD oil and chronic pain
It is not possible to talk about arthritis without talking about chronic pain.
Chronic pain is a type of pain that is either recurrent or constant and lasts for more than three months. Chronic pain may lead to disability and suffering.
As chronic pain is hard to treat, scientists are constantly trying to understand what causes different types of pain and, from there, develop new and improved pain management tools.
New cannabis-based medicines are being developed and approved for pain management across Europe. The European Pain Federation even created a special task force whose primary purpose was to analyse scientific evidence regarding the impact of cannabis medication on different types of pain, including chronic pain. One of the many promising results of this review was the realisation that current scientific evidence (at the time of the evaluation) showed cannabis medication might be a reasonable solution for pain management, especially for chronic neuropathic pain that cannot be managed with traditional medication.
Other research suggests chronic pain might be triggered not only by an existing illness but also by high stress and anxiety levels.
As CBD is believed to have the ability to support a balanced life and promote lower stress and anxiety levels, it may have a multitude of beneficial effects on chronic pain.
CBD oil and psoriatic arthritis
Most people associate psoriasis with skin rather than joint conditions.
Unfortunately, almost 1 in 3 people diagnosed with skin psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis. This is yet another type of inflammatory arthritis resulting from the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells and tissues – in this case, the joints.
Hemp and CBD are often used in cosmetics designed for sensitive skin suffering from psoriasis. This is due to their potential anti-inflammatory properties and an ability to keep skin affected by psoriasis deeply moisturised.
Just like in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, some preclinical studies from recent years have shown that CBD might contribute to a better balanced immune system, which, in turn, causes cannabinoid receptors to influence how we experience pain. This suggests that CBD may have a place in the treatment options for psoriatic arthritis.
How does CBD work?
One of the most exciting discoveries related to CBD is the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System and its role in how people experience pain.
The Endocannabinoid System is a network of receptors spread throughout the entire body, participating in various processes such as sleep, anxiety, stress, immune and pain responses, and much more.
Cannabinoids, such as CBD, can interact with these receptors the same way as endocannabinoids produced in the human body.
Due to this similarity, scientists are exploring the extent to which cannabinoids, including CBD, can interact with and influence these processes.
While more clinical human studies are needed to understand the relationship between CBD and pain, it looks like the activation of specific cannabinoid receptors in our Endocannabinoid System may result in pain-alleviating effects.
How to take CBD if you have arthritis
If you feel like experimenting with CBD and arthritis is a problem for you, we have some tips to help make it easier to get started.
There are different methods of administering CBD to choose from. First and foremost, use an oral administration if you want to feel the effects of CBD in your entire body, and opt for topical administration for more localised results.
CBD oils, CBD capsules and CBD gummies can all be administered orally. CBD oil allows for precise administration and quick absorption due to its high bioavailability. Capsules and gummies take longer to reach the bloodstream as they have to be digested first. Accurate dosing can also be trickier, but the taste is sometimes preferred over CBD oil.
Topicals, on the other hand, have a localised effect. Therefore, you should consider using specifically designed products, such as our CBD joint balm, which helps to soothe aches and pains and can be applied directly on the areas of the body that require extra care due to arthritis.
Remember that the use of topicals and oral supplements are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly safe to use CBD joint balms and creams on top of your regular CBD dose, provided that you stay below a maximum dosage of 70mg per day.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure the safe and effective use of CBD:
- Before using CBD, always talk to your doctor, as it can interfere with certain prescribed medications and might not be suitable for you
- Never use CBD to replace your current prescription medication
- Try CBD if the results of traditional treatments are not satisfactory
- Purchase CBD products from trusted suppliers
- Check if the products have been independently tested for contamination by pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and more
- The Arthritis Foundation suggests you avoid vaping CBD and instead use CBD oil and CBD topicals
- If you experience any side effects, like nausea or dizziness, stop using CBD and consult with your doctor.
To understand how your body reacts to the interaction between CBD and arthritis, make sure to approach the process of taking CBD in an almost scientific manner. Consider keeping a journal to track the way you feel after one, two and three weeks into the process. It will make it easier for you to see if CBD and arthritis can form a healthy bond and if CBD does provide desired benefits. Remember to discuss how your body reacts to CBD and arthritis with your doctor.
Potential side effects of CBD
While CBD side effects are rare, you must know what they are. The most common side effects of CBD include drowsiness, nausea and dry mouth. When used in excessive doses, CBD might also decrease appetite, and cause rashes, diarrhoea, or sleeping problems.
We strongly advise that you get yourself acquainted with this complete list of the side effects of CBD before you start your CBD adventure.
And as always the case with CBD, speak to your local GP if in doubt.
CBD oils and creams are popular among people with arthritis of any type.
This non-addictive and non-intoxicating cannabinoid has a good safety profile. While more clinical trials and studies on humans are needed to understand the relationship between CBD and arthritis better, what we already know is very promising.
Due to the potential anti-inflammatory and pain-alleviating properties of CBD, internationally recognised health organisations are taking a closer look at the potential benefits of prescribed medication with CBD. But until the relationship between CBD and arthritis is fully understood, you should still always consult with your local GP on your decision to use CBD or any other cannabis-based supplements, especially in combination with prescribed medication.
And after you do that, you can feel free to explore how your body will react to CBD.