Can CBD Help With the Symptoms of Arthritis?

by Nick Marshall

CBD, one of the 80 cannabinoids that occur naturally in the hemp plant, has established itself as a proven remedy for epilepsy, leading the FDA to approve Epidiolex as its first cannabis-derived prescription medicine. Anecdotal evidence also supports CBD as an effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia. And support is growing for the idea that CBD can relieve the symptoms of arthritis, too. Right now, conclusive medical proof is missing, but if true, the quality of life of some 50 million plus Americans could be significantly improved.

The Complex Nature of Arthritis

Arthritis affects 1 in 5 adults in the United States, but it can also strike at an early age and get progressively worse. Although common, it has remained difficult to understand and treat from a medical perspective. In part, that’s because the term arthritis covers more than 100 types of joint disease of varying severity. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage in joints gradually wears away, whereas in inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis), the body’s auto-immune system attacks the joints. In all cases, symptoms include inflammation, chronic pain, swelling and potential disability.

CBD Acts on Arthritis Inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated and the symptoms reversed, providing the condition is caught in the first two years or so. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, has no known treatment, so the focus is on minimizing the severity of inflammation and pain and slowing the onset of symptoms. There is no conclusive proof that CBD is a consistent, effective treatment for arthritis, not least because the disease has no known treatment in most cases. A 2011 study on rats, however, showed that CBD can bind to atypical pain receptors, reducing inflammatory pain. This discovery is consistent with evidence that CBD reduces inflammation and pain in those suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory and neuropathic conditions.

Treatment vs. Pain Management

Outlandish claims by unscrupulous healers have done CBD a disservice: for example, that CBD could cure cancer. At present, there’s a lack of clinical evidence in humans that CBD offers effective treatment for anything other than epileptic seizures, which is one of the reasons the FDA has so far been reticent to approve CBD products. But most prescription drugs are concerned not with treatment or cure but with managing symptoms. The same applies to CBD, supported by a 2014 study indicating the effectiveness of CBD in controlling inflammation.

Topical CBD Gel or Internal CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol is a hydrophobic compound, meaning that it behaves much like an oil in repelling water. Potentially, this slows down its absorption into the body. Because arthritis is typically a chronic condition, sufferers can build up essential fatty acids and CBD levels in the body by taking oral capsules, and use topical application of CBD oil or gel to treat localized pain around swollen joints. Both approaches mirror conventional medicine, in which arthritis sufferers use cortisone, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or menthol/capsaicin ointments via both oral and topical routes.

Side Effects of Arthritis Treatments

Regular use of analgesic or corticosteroid painkillers can produce numerous side effects, such as irritation of the stomach lining. Likewise, the injection of fusion-proteins in treatments of rheumatoid arthritis risks suppressing the entire immune system. With CBD, there are no known side effects, supported by a 2016 study that found no risks with using CBD gels in transdermal (skin) treatments. Bear in mind that the body produces its own cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) naturally, leading some scientists to believe that CBD products work not because of the cannabinoids they contain but by stimulating the body to produce endocannabinoids. The World Health Organization reports that there are no known public health problems related to CBD.

When to Take Care with CBD Oil

Approval from the WHO does not automatically qualify as the all-clear for CBD use in all cases. For a start, not all CBD is THC-free, although ours is. Arthritis sufferers who take a CBD oil with levels of psychoactive THC above the legal 0.3% limit risk experiencing the side effects associated with THC, such as drowsiness, irritability or hallucinations. Care should also be taken when CBD is combined with other medications, since it can increase levels of coumadin in the body, thinning the blood; and it can cause faster absorption and higher concentrations of other medications, too. You can read more about combining CBD with other medications here.

Ultimately, common sense dictates that any arthritis sufferer should consult with their doctor before beginning any course of CBD supplements. A doctor can advise on dosage levels, medication interactions and which ingestion route you should try. And take care to purchase CBD from a reputable source with accurate levels of THC and CBD clearly marked on the product labels. Some lower-quality CBD products contain negligible quantities of CBD, and these offer little or no therapeutic benefit.

Nick Marshall is a UK-based, independent journalist and copywriter helping global food, travel, lifestyle and technology brands tell their story.