Arthritis patients live with chronic pain—pain which can become debilitating if it goes unaddressed. One innovation in pain management is the use of cannabidiol, or CBD. You may be wondering if marijuana may ease the pain and discomfort from rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s what to know.
CBD For Arthritis: Benefits, Risks And More
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Table of Contents
- What Is Arthritis?
- Why CBD Might Relieve Arthritis
- Potential Risks of Using CBD for Arthritis Relief
- Should You Use CBD for Arthritis?
- Talk to Your Doctor
Arthritis patients live with chronic pain—pain which can become debilitating if it goes unaddressed. One innovation in pain management is the use of cannabidiol, or CBD. While there is no cure for arthritis pain, early studies have shown that CBD can potentially aid in some of the discomfort, anxiety and inflammation associated with the condition.
Read on to learn more about how CBD can be used for arthritis pain, its potential benefits, risks and if it might be an option for you.
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What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the acute or chronic inflammation of joints. Though commonly understood to be a singular condition, arthritis is a term used to reference joint pain and joint disease. In fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, among others. Symptoms include pain and stiffness in the joints, swelling, decreased range of motion, joint deformities and other related conditions.
Causes for arthritis vary depending on the individual, but can include:
- An autoimmune disease
- A previously injured joint that develops post-traumatic arthritis later in life
- Being overweight
Types of Arthritis
While there are many types of arthritis, two of the most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
“The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which develops over time and can intensify with age,” says Thomas Lazoff, M.D., a double board certified physician at Physical Medicine Consultants in Fort Wayne, Indiana. OA affects more than 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  Osteoarthritis (OA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 5/4/2022. .
OA affects the entire joint, including the bone, cartilage, ligaments, fat, and the tissues lining the joint, says Dr. Lazoff. Symptoms of OA can include joint stiffness, redness, and decreased motion in the hands, knees, hips, lower back and neck.
“This form of arthritis causes some element of swelling and tenderness of one or more joints,” he adds, noting joint pain can be chronic and flare up at times.
Age, gender, overuse of the same joints, genetics, former injuries and suffering from obesity can all contribute to the onset of OA. The condition is more common in people over 50 years old and tends to occur in women more than men.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which typically attacks the joints of the body,” says Dr. Lazoff. Individuals living with RA often experience stiffness, swelling and pain in the joints. Symptoms of an RA flare can last for extensive periods of time and may include:
- Low grade fever
- Joint stiffness, tenderness or swelling that lasts for six weeks or more
- Joint stiffness that occurs in the morning and lasts for longer than 30 minutes
Symptoms occurring in multiple joints in the body, or symptoms occurring in the same joints bilaterally may also be an indication of RA.
While the cause of RA is unknown, a genetic component is suspected to play a part in the disease, especially when triggered by lifestyle and environmental factors. Women are more likely to develop RA than men, and women who have never given birth are thought to be at higher risk, according to the CDC.
Medical Marijuana, CBD Oil, and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Researchers still don’t know a lot about how marijuana affects your body. But there is substantial evidence that it can help relieve long-term pain. And pain is a major symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Here’s what’s known so far about how medical marijuana and a marijuana extract called CBD (cannabidiol) might affect RA.
Benefits for RA
The Cannabis sativa plant has more than 100 chemicals that can affect your body and mind. The two that scientists know the most about are THC and CBD.
THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is what gets you high when you smoke, vape, or eat marijuana. CBD doesn’t affect your brain that way. For that reason, some people prefer CBD for medical uses.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can make your joints stiff, tender, and painful. RA also can affect your lungs, eyes, skin, and other body parts.
The federal ban on marijuana and CBD means studies on humans have been few. So researchers don’t know for sure that cannabis eases RA symptoms. But the results from several very small studies suggest that in people with rheumatic diseases, including RA and osteoarthritis, it may help:
- Curb morning pain (but not the overall level of pain)
- Improve sleep
- Lower inflammation in joints (but not joint stiffness)
Some lab testing suggests that cannabinoids may help tamp down the body’s immune response. But the studies have been limited to animals, not humans.
Doctors will need more proof before they can recommend cannabis products to treat rheumatic diseases. For example, we know very little about the effects on RA from smoking marijuana or other uses of herbal marijuana.
Is Cannabis Right for You?
The best way to answer this is to ask your doctor. They can tell you about possible side effects and drug interactions, legal considerations, and which form and at which dose may help you the most.
More than half of the states have legalized marijuana for medical use. More than a dozen other states allow limited medical uses of CBD.
The FDA doesn’t regulate marijuana or CBD, so you might not know exactly what’s in the products you buy. One batch of pot or edible marijuana may have a much higher or lower amount of THC than another, or affect you differently. CBD also can be unpredictable.
Cannabis can affect you mentally and physically. THC can impair driving, so you shouldn’t get behind the wheel for at least 8 hours after you take it. Smoking or vaping (inhaling) marijuana will hit you more quickly than if you eat it. It’s also not good for your lungs or respiratory system.
If you use marijuana regularly, it could make you more likely to get anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.
CBD side effects are usually mild or moderate. They can include:
Medical marijuana has similar side effects, that may include:
Where to Get It
Depending on your state, you may need to buy medical marijuana and CBD at specific dispensaries or pharmacies from approved vendors. Your doctor may need to certify that you have a condition that may benefit from marijuana.
Marijuana is available in many forms, like pills, prepared foods, teas, nasal sprays, and as something you smoke or vape.
In some states, CBD is sold at many all-natural food stores and online. It can be taken by mouth as oil or extracts, or applied to your skin.
Chemistry & Biochemistry: “History of Cannabis and Its Preparations in Saga, Science, and Sobriquet.”
Mayo Clinic: “Mayo Clinic Q and A: Treatment with medical cannabis,” “Marijuana,” “What are the benefits of CBD — and is it safe to use?” “Rheumatoid arthritis.”
News release, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.”
Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Health.”
Arthritis Care & Research: “Efficacy, Tolerability, and Safety of Cannabinoid Treatments in the Rheumatic Diseases: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.”
Nature Reviews Rheumatology: “Cannabinoids for the treatment of rheumatic diseases — where do we stand?”
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration: “Drug Scheduling.”
Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research: “Cannabis and Pain: A Clinical Review.”
Journal of Medical Toxicology: “Medical Marijuana and Driving: A Review.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Marijuana and Cannabinoids.”