Arthritis affects about 350 million people across the globe. Although about 50 percent of arthritis sufferers are age 65 or older, children can also suffer from the condition. Because arthritis causes stiff, painful joints, it can be debilitating. It can limit range of motion and cause whole-body fatigue.
The disease has no cure, but scientists continue to learn more about arthritis medications that can relieve symptoms. Some arthritis treatments can slow the progression of the inflammatory process. Others simply mask your body’s pain response.
All drugs are associated with side effects, some of which can be severe. CBD oil is a promising alternative to conventional arthritis medications. It works on many levels to reduce the symptoms and progression of arthritis.
Arthritis: An Overview
Arthritis is not a single disease. It is an umbrella term that describes more than 100 conditions that can bring about joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Some types of arthritis affect the organs as well as the joints.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of the disease. This is the type of arthritis with which most people are familiar. It is marked by a deterioration of the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones from friction, and it tends to affect elderly people more than young ones.
Osteoarthritis is often caused by overuse or misaligned joints. The wear and tear that occurs over a period of someone’s life can lead to deterioration of the cartilage, which damages the joints. Inflammation is a result of this type of arthritis and can lead to further degeneration.
In some cases, chronic inflammation causes the joint impairment to begin with. Inflammatory arthritis is normally associated with autoimmune conditions. Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are two forms of this disease. The body’s immune system usually protects the body from invaders. In people with inflammatory arthritis, the body mistakenly judges the bones and organs as dangerous and attacks them, causing uncontrolled inflammation and pain.
Infectious arthritis occurs when a virus or bacterium invades the joints. Antibiotic treatment can clear the infection if it’s administered early. Some people with this condition experience chronic effects.
Metabolic arthritis is caused by a buildup of uric acid. Also known as gout, this condition can happen concurrently with other types of arthritis.
Once joint deterioration occurs in patients with arthritis, the area tends to continue to worsen. Nerve pain can occur as the disease progresses. Treatments for arthritis should target the inflammation as well as the various types of pain that restrict mobility.
How Can CBD Help With Arthritis?
The Arthritis Foundation lists CBD oil as a natural treatment in the “supplements and herbs” category.
To understand how CBD may work to improve symptoms of arthritis, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the endocannabinoid system.
The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is a relatively new discovery. It is named after the cannabis plant because it was discovered while researchers were looking into the effects of cannabis on the body.
Although cannabis has been used therapeutically for centuries, no one really knew the mechanisms through which it exerted its effects until 1964. At that time, researchers isolated tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
THC is the most abundant active ingredient in cannabis. It’s the one that’s responsible for delivering a mind-altering high.
Scientists realized that THC influenced the neuronal signaling system in the body, and they continued to research this target. Of particular interest to researchers was the fact that THC is a lipid. In 1964, experts believed that the only neuroactive compounds that could interact with cells were water-soluble molecules. As they continued to learn about THC, they realized that this cannabinoid could influence cells in novel ways.
By the early 1990s, specific cannabinoid receptors were identified within the human body. Lab tests demonstrated that THC works by binding to CB1 receptors, which are the most plentiful in the central nervous system.
The CB2 receptor is more abundant outside of the central nervous system and primarily modulates immunity. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is another substance in cannabis that may work more closely with the CB2 receptor.
After these receptors were discovered, researchers went on to investigate the natural chemicals that the body produces to activate CB1 and CB2. They hypothesized that our bodies wouldn’t have evolved to develop these receptors if they were only activated by an external chemical, such as cannabis. They learned that we have natural cannabinoids, which influence the endocannabinoid receptors.
There are more than two types of endocannabinoid receptors in the body. Scientists are still learning about this system. What they do know is that the endocannabinoid system serves as a feedback loop for the body. Neurotransmitter signaling involving cannabinoids flows in multiple directions, giving the body a mechanism for communicating with itself and maintaining balance.
The Endocannabinoid System, Pain Signaling and Inflammation
The endocannabinoid system is involved in the following processes:
• High-order behavioral functions
• Executive function
• Decision making
• Sensory reception and responsiveness
• Motor function
Cannabinoid receptors are highly concentrated in regions that communicate pain signals within the central nervous system. They’re also located on peripheral nerves that transmit pain responses.
Altering the endocannabinoid system by introducing external chemicals that interact with it may help manage symptoms involved with the any of the aforementioned processes.
CBD is an exogenous cannabinoid that influences this system. CBD can alter the perception of pain and emotions that are involved with physical distress. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, which may be responsible for its ability to help people manage their arthritis symptoms.
CBD doesn’t attach directly to receptors. However, it does influence the activity of other neurotransmitters that bind to endocannabinoid receptors. It exerts its effects by activating or inhibiting certain functions within the endocannabinoid system.
What Do Studies on CBD and Arthritis Show?
CBD has been shown to improve arthritis symptoms in a variety of ways. It suppresses immunity, which can be helpful for people with rheumatoid arthritis. It reduces inflammation, which can aid in controlling all types of arthritis. It has a few indirect benefits for arthritis patients too.
However, many of the studies haven’t explored CBD directly. Instead, they’ve looked at the endocannabinoid system as a mechanism for sending pain signals to the brain in people with arthritis. Instead of using CBD in their research, some experts use other chemicals that activate or suppress endocannabinoid receptors. From their data, it can be assumed that CBD may have the same effects because it influences the same receptors.
Sativex is a prescription mouth spray that contains CBD and THC and is approved for treating muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. Each dose of Sativex that was used in the study contained 2.7 milligrams of THC and 2.5 milligrams of CBD. Volunteers used one spray within 30 minutes of going to bed. The administration frequency was gradually increased based on the response of each participant.
In the individuals who used Sativex, pain was substantially diminished whether subjects were moving or at rest. The reduction in disease activity was clinically significant. The researchers also measured inflammatory activity and found that it was reduced in participants who took Sativex.
These findings are consistent with a similar study that was conducted on mice. In that study, rodents were induced with arthritis, and CBD was administered after they began showing symptoms.
The results indicated that CBD, administered without THC this time, stopped the disease from progressing. The optimal dose of CBD was 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day when injected and 25 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day when taken orally.
A daily oral dosage of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight worked almost as well as the lower oral dosage. The increased oral dosage probably takes into account the limited bioavailability of CBD when it goes through the digestive system compared with the instant entry into the bloodstream via injection.
In this study, the anti-arthritic effects of CBD were attributed to its anti-inflammatory properties as well as its ability to suppress the immune system. Its immunosuppressive qualities are significant for treating rheumatoid arthritis because this condition causes a release of T-cells and cytokines.
CBD and Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is not associated with the same immune system changes as rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, you might wonder if people with osteoarthritis would benefit from taking CBD oil. Evidence demonstrates that they may experience pain reduction and reduced inflammation.
In a 2011 study, researchers looked at the effects of a synthetic CBD analog on pain signals in the central nervous system. They noticed that an atypical cannabinoid receptor exists in the body. The GPR55 receptor is found in large concentrations on sensory neurons in mice and plays a significant role in pain communication. Activating the GPR55 receptor with a man-made CBD analog changed the experience of physical distress in a model of acute inflammatory arthritis.
Although it’s interesting that stimulating the GPR55 receptor activates the endocannabinoid system in a way that mediates pain, the researchers indicated that different cannabinoids have distinct effects. CBD may act differently than the synthetic abnormal cannabidiol that was used in this study.
Other researchers have confirmed that CBD helps control inflammation and prevent nerve damage associated with arthritis. In a 2017 study, researchers investigated whether CBD influenced pain and neuropathy via its anti-inflammatory properties.
They found that using CBD in a localized area reduced inflammation and reduced the pain signals sent out from the joint. Administering CBD preventatively stopped joint pain from developing later. The compound was also found to protect the nerves.
An older study had demonstrated similar results. This one examined whether injecting rats with a chemical that stimulates the CB1 receptor could influence pain sensations in rats with arthritic knees. The compound that was used was more comparable to THC than to CBD, but it still showed that the endocannabinoid system plays a large role in regulating pain.
CBD May Help Pain Sufferers Sleep
In the study that examined the benefits of Sativex for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, many participants slept better while using the medication. A 2008 review considered the way that cannabinoids affect people who deal with chronic pain. They found that many synthetic and natural cannabinoid products mediated physical discomfort and reduced inflammation. They also noted that study volunteers who used Sativex experienced better sleep.
But Sativex contains THC. What about using CBD alone to help you sleep when you’re dealing with pain from arthritis?
Most of the studies that have examined the link between CBD and sleep have included THC. However, in a 1981 study, healthy volunteers as well as those with insomnia or epilepsy slept longer after taking up to 160 milligrams of CBD than the participants who took a placebo.
This can be helpful if you find yourself feeling fatigued from your arthritis during the day. Using CBD to remain energetic during daylight hours may help you doze off at night.
How to Use CBD for Arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation recommends using low doses of CBD. This is especially important for people who are just introducing the product to their systems.
A typical starting dose is between 5 and 10 milligrams. This dose can be taken twice a day.
If symptoms don’t improve, people can gradually increase the dosage to up to 100 milligrams per day. If using CBD alone doesn’t help arthritis symptoms, patients may want to try using a product with a low concentration of THC.
Some other recommendations for using CBD for arthritis include:
• Taking the product only at night to begin with.
• Trying vaping or using a topical product before edibles because the effects come on more quickly and don’t last as long.
• Using caution with products that contain THC, especially if you’re 25 or younger.
• Sampling different strains to achieve the best results.
One of the benefits of using CBD as an alternative to traditional arthritis medications is that it produces fewer side effects. The results may vary depending on the administration of the product.
Vaping CBD extract gets the product into your bloodstream fairly rapidly. You may feel some of the effects more quickly, which is important if you need acute pain relief. Also, vaping CBD bypasses the digestive system, allowing more of the product to be absorbed. However, the pain relief that’s delivered through vaping doesn’t last as long as the effects from of methods of CBD administration.
If you take CBD orally, your body may not absorb it for about an hour. Once it is in your system, however, the effects last a long time. Dropping CBD under your tongue instead of eating an edible or swallowing a capsule delivers faster effects than consuming it.
Because the pain associated with arthritis is often localized, a topical CBD remedy could soothe it. Cannabinoid receptors have been found in the skin. Applying a lotion, salve or balm that contains CBD may produce analgesic effects rapidly.
Research shows that applying a CBD gel to the affected area reduces swelling, acute pain and inflammation markers. The results are dependent on the quality of the topical product as well as its concentration of CBD. In this study, the researchers found that higher doses didn’t necessarily work better than moderate doses. Applying the product directly to the skin surrounding the arthritic joint is the best way to deliver the therapeutic effects while minimizing adverse systemic reactions.
Should You Combine CBD and THC?
Some people with arthritis want to avoid taking THC because they’re worried about the psychotropic effects. In studies that have explored Sativex use, however, many participants reported that they didn’t feel high after taking the medication. Low doses of THC may not produce the same euphoria as recreational marijuana.
THC has many therapeutic effects. Like CBD, it is a potent anti-inflammatory and can help control pain. Much of the research on cannabis and pain includes THC. Medical marijuana is prescribed to individuals with pain from a variety of conditions, including arthritis.
When CBD and THC are used together, they work synergistically. THC activates CB1 receptors, but CBD is a CB1 receptor antagonist. Therefore, CBD can reduce the paranoia that can occur from higher doses of THC. Moderating the intoxication from THC is important when considering it for therapeutic benefits.
There are several studies that show that CBD alone can reduce physical sensitivity. However, plenty of research indicates that THC is an effective analgesic too. If you decide to use a CBD oil that contains THC, you may have to contend with legal issues. CBD that contains more than 0.3 percent THC is prohibited in states that haven’t legalized marijuana.
If you have access to a medical marijuana dispensary, you might want to consult with the professionals there to determine the best version of CBD for your needs. You can also ask your doctor about using cannabis to treat your arthritis.
Many physicians are not experienced with CBD. However, as researchers continue to discover new breakthroughs, more medical professionals are becoming familiar with CBD as a promising therapy.