CBD for Arthritis: Relief on Multiple Fronts

An elderly person's hands, using CBD oil on their skin.

If you or a loved one are suffering from arthritis, you are likely familiar with how debilitating and hopeless the struggle can seem. Using CBD for arthritis seems to produce favorable results on several fronts. Read on to learn how this cannabinoid can help.

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the body’s joints. In varying ways, these conditions damage the sufferer’s movement, causing considerable pain, stiffness, and discomfort. The term arthritis doesn’t refer to a single condition, but is an umbrella term used to describe over 200 conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround the joint, and other connective tissues.

The Scope of the Issue

Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in the adult population of Western countries. Individuals over 40 years of age are the most common victims of this debilitating disease, but it develops in all adults and even children.

According to CDC statistics from 2013-2015, an estimated 22.7% (54.4 million) adults are annually diagnosed with arthritis in the US, with significantly higher prevalence in women (23.5%) than in men (18.1%). In the UK, according to the NHS, nearly 9 million people suffer from arthritis. In Australia, based on recent statistics, one in six people are living with arthritis.

These figures are expected to keep rising along with the increase in overall life expectancy, as well as factors that contribute to arthritis development such as obesity, which is also on the rise both in the US, the UK, and Australia. Obesity (BMI) is actually one of the major predictors of ostheoarthritis, as the disease prvalence in heavily obese countries seems to indicate.

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s little to be done about the obesity epidemic. Reversing it would mean uprooting the entire Western nutrition infrastructure and changing millions of lifestyles in the direction of more activity, not more convenience where capitalism seems to be taking us. For now, it seems like what we are left with is to keep fighting the symptoms of arthritis.

Types of Arthritis

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). It develops when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones degrades over time. Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint, it most commonly affects joints of the hands, knees, hips, and spine. This type of arthritis is commonly comorbid with obesity.

Knee joint pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second most common form of arthritis. It refers to a number of joint disorders that are basically autoimmune diseases. They develop when the immune system attacks the cells that line the joints by mistake, making the joints swollen, stiff, and painful. It’s not known what causes RA; the leading theory suggests that it’s a genetic malfunction that is triggered by a bacteria or virus.

Conventional Arthritis Treatment Options

In both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, swelling, and stiffness are the major symptoms that deteriorate life quality. The current available methods of treatment focus on relieving these symptoms, and they include:

  • Painkillers, which help reduce pain, but don’t affect the underlying inflammation. Sometimes, opioids might be prescribed; long-term use of opioids often leads to both mental and physical dependence.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which work to reduce both pain and inflammation. Their long-term use is also known to potentially lead to moderate to serious side effects, especially in the older population. Some of the more concerning ones are stomach irritation and an increase in risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Creams and ointments that contain menthol or capsaicin, which may interfere with the pain signals coming from the joints. Some NSAIDs are also available as creams.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which are used to slow or stop the immune system from attacking the joints in RA. Numerous side effects of using DMARDs have been reported.
  • Biologic response modifiers, which are often used with DMARDs, and go after the various protein molecules involved in the immune response.
  • Corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. They can be taken orally or can be injected into the painful joint. They also cause side effects when used long-term.

In extreme cases of arthritis, joint replacement surgery is a possibility. However, understandably, few people opt for it, so most have to settle for living in pain and trying to manage their condition with some, or a combination of the options above.

Although some of the available treatments may be effective, they also come with adverse health consequences of their own.

CBD for Arthritis – How Can It Help?

This is where CBD comes into play. Although this cannabinoid comes from the same plant as marijuana, it does not have any psychoactive effects. On the other hand, CBD has numerous health benefits, which are being more and more supported by scientific research.

The most important therapeutic aspect of CBD for arthritis is its analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect.

CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, a key internal system responsible for regulating pain sensation. The indirect interaction of CBD with this system suppresses pain and inflammation. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed these effects.

The best part is that consumption of CBD has not been shown to have serious side effects, especially if applied topically (because it doesn’t even enter the bloodstream this way). From what we know so far, there are only slight and rare inconveniences following the ingestion of CBD such as dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, low blood pressure, drowsiness, and fatigue. For many sufferers of debilitating disorders which CBD has been shown to help alleviate, this is a worthy tradeoff.

Although human clinical trials of the application of CBD specifically on patients with arthritis are still pending, a few animal model studies have reported promising results.

A 2016 study conducted on a rat model of arthritis showed that CBD gel was effective in reducing the pain and swelling in the rats’ joints. They found that the effectiveness has a hockey stick correlation with the dosage, and that the plateau already begins at quite low amounts.

A 2017 study, also conducted on rats, reported that “local administration of CBD blocked OA pain” and that “Prophylactic CBD treatment prevented the later development of pain and nerve damage in these OA joints.” The researchers concluded that “CBD may be a safe, useful therapeutic for treating OA joint neuropathic pain.”

How to Use CBD for Arthritis

CBD can be applied/consumed in numerous ways, and anyway you get it into your system should provide therapeutic benefits for arthritis because the endocannabinoid receptors, responsible for pain and inflammation, are located all over the body.

  • Edible forms of CBD, such as chocolates, gummies, and candies should be able to provide general anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits to arthritis sufferers. They take some time to get to the liver (30min to 2h), but when they do, their effects last for many hours while they are metabolized.
  • CBD oil, which can be vaporized, is quicker acting (within minutes), and is recommended for acute, intense pain that needs to be managed more urgently. The effects last for a few hours.
  • CBD tinctures are consumed sublingually, and they are in between consuming CBD edibles and vaporizing CBD oil in their onset time (5 to 20min) because they enter the bloodstream directly from the vessels in the mouth. The effects also last rather long, at least several hours.
  • Finally, topical solutions such as CBD creams, balms, and ointments, can provide reasonably rapid relief for localized joint pains, and carry no side effects whatsoever as the CBD does not enter the bloodstream.

Every arthritis sufferer has distinct symptoms which should be managed in personalized ways. Unfortunately, since CBD is not yet an FDA approved substance for arthritis treatment, there are no clear-cut guidelines on the best means of application and dosages corresponding to symptom type and severity. This is why we recommend you to combine different forms of CBD intake and dosages and experiment in order to find the best possible way to apply CBD for arthritis in your case.

Have you tried using CBD for arthritis already? What are your experiences?

If you haven’t, are you considering it? What are your concerns?

Please share them with us in the comments below.


About Xavier Francuski

Born in India, grew up in Serbia, lived and traveled throughout the world, Xavier's uprooted existence fuels his instinct for exploration. With a masters degree in research psychology, he is a passionate educator on the topic of psychedelics, trying to reconcile the astounding nature of the realms beyond with what sense we can make of them in this one. Currently living in Southeast Asia and working as a staff writer for several major psychedelic websites.

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