If you suffer from arthritis, you are keenly aware of the never-ending cycle of inflammation. Whether you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, you’ve got inflammation that further damages the cartilage, soon leading to painful bone-on-bone contact. You’ve tried everything, but you haven’t tried CBD. Can it help?
Many studies suggest that CBD has both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Most research has been done in animals, but these effects have not been fully validated in human studies. There are a few CBD clinical trials ongoing, and while there are no current trials for CBD effectiveness on arthritis, the University of Colorado at Denver is currently recruiting for a clinical trial showing CBD’s ability to reduce pain compared to opioids.
Most reports of CBD’s effectiveness against arthritis are from anecdotal evidence. Many people who have tried it report noticeable pain relief and improved sleep because of the diminished pain.
What Causes Inflammation?
The inflammation from arthritis occurs when free radicals attack the body tissues. The inflammation increases the sensitivity of the neurons, and that sensitivity activates the body’s pro-inflammatory pathways. Nerve signals are more pronounced and more frequent, so even the slightest movement by an arthritis sufferer can create intense pain, because the neurons are heightened to transmit pain signals. As tissues are repeatedly attacked, the constant pain and swelling creates dysfunction in the joints. As inflammation becomes more severe over time, the neurons become much more sensitive. This is a vicious cycle, and pretty soon, you are in constant pain.
Controlling the symptoms of arthritis means controlling severe joint inflammation. As it turns out, inflammation is influenced by a number of factors, including age, lifestyle choices, diet and physical activity.
Particularly with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a vast “network” of chemicals called cytokines really factor in to play a key role. The cytokines are divided into two groups: pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. With arthritis, the pro-inflammatory cytokines known as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) play key roles, as do the cyclooxygenase COX1 and COX2 enzymes, both well-known markers of inflammation.
A little inflammation is good, such as when the body has an infection and triggers a normal inflammatory response to protect the body. However, when inflammation is chronic and occurs over a long period of time, it is a detrimental situation.
Inflammation is ever present, and the body continually releases cytokines. Unfortunately, the pro-inflammatory cytokines signal cells to secrete enzymes that degrade the collagen in the joints. Over time, the degradation leads to tissue destruction and joint erosion in the cartilage and bone.
How Does CBD Work?
CBD is well-established as one of the main cannabinoids in hemp and cannabis. Indeed, CBD’s biological activity operates on a wide spectrum. CBD has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. CBD is pharmalogically active, and it interacts with COX2 to reduce inflammation.
CBD is safe to use. No serious safety concerns have been associated with moderate doses of CBD. However, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting use because CBD can potentially interact with some medications that people with arthritis commonly take. Examples of these medications are corticosteroids (like prednisone), naproxen (Aleve), celecoxib (Celebrex), tramadol (Ultram), gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica).
CBD derived from hemp is legal. The US government no longer considers CBD a Schedule I drug, according to the criteria outlined in the federal Controlled Substances Act. Hemp is grown in all 50 states, legally. Despite all this, laws do differ in every state, so consumers who want to use CBD should check their state laws.
For arthritis, CBD can be taken orally in capsule or gummy form, and there are many good CBD-based topical creams that can be applied directly to the skin. Some people find that CBD alone does not work for them, and often find that taking CBD with a very low-dose of THC works well. This is likely due to the entourage effect where cannabinoids work better together to boost each other’s performance. While CBD is non-hallucinogenic, THC is and even at low doses, you may find that THC creates motor, balance or cognitive issues due to the “high” it creates. THC is still illegal in many states, so know what is allowed in your state. If you are in a state that allows THC, it is best to try the THC at home at night in a safe environment. The worst case scenario is that you can sleep off any unwanted effects.
What the Experts Say
The Arthritis Foundation recognizes CBD’s potential for arthritis, and as such has pursued efforts like partnering with the University of Michigan and the Arthritis Society of Canada to learn whether people diagnosed with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions can effectively use medical cannabis: CBD, or a CBD/THC combination. These experts encourage clinical trials, like the one in progress in Denmark studying CBD with a THC add-on for relief of chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
The experts recognize the need for more quality clinical studies on CBD and arthritis like this one. In particular, there must be emphasis on proper dosing. There are no established clinical guidelines regarding dosing but experts agree on the following. Start at a low dose, just a few milligrams, and go slow while you see the effect it has on your body. After a week, if you need more relief, go up in small increments. Talk to your doctor to develop a plan. Should you experience any unwanted side effects with CBD, discontinue use immediately and talk with your doctor.
There are many disease-modifying treatments for inflammatory arthritis, and while CBD is not a substitute, CBD can serve an important function alongside other treatments. There are over 100 types of arthritis, so there won’t be one CBD solution to fit all. But CBD can be an effective part of an overall pain management plan that includes medication, exercise and psychological support. Establish realistic treatment goals within a realistic time period if you are going to try CBD. It’s that easy.
The experts do all agree on obtaining a CBD product of the utmost quality. This means purchase a CBD product that has been tested by an independent lab for purity and potency. Each batch should be tested and have an accompanying certificate of analysis (COA).
Interestingly, the Arthritis Foundation conducted a recent poll and found that about80 percent of people who responded had used, were currently using, or were currently considering using CBD in some form for arthritis.
The large number of people using it shows where the anecdotal evidence and testimonials are coming from. In the poll, there were reports of dramatic improvement in pain and inflammation. People also reported improvement in physical function, mobility, stiffness and sleep, with an overall improvement in a feeling of well-being.
Lots of folks have tried CBD, and you should as well. While clinical trials are ongoing to answer the questions of exactly how CBD may be helpful to people with chronic arthritis pain, you may want to consider joining the large group of people who have found relief. Other treatments do not typically cure arthritis, but instead just treat symptoms. For many, the pain is so severe, they need opiate drugs, and have tried CBD as a less addictive option.
Jacqueline Havelka is a contributing writer for Let It Grow Hemp. She's a rocket scientist turned writer, having worked in the space program for many years managing experiments on the Space Station and Shuttle. Jacqueline currently owns her own firm, Inform Scientific, specializing in technical and medical writing and research program management. When she’s not writing, she is likely watching college football.