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CBD for Arthritis: Evidence-Based Benefits and Uses

Struggling with aches and pains? It may be worth trying cannabidiol (CBD) for arthritis. In recent years, CBD has become increasingly popular as a natural adjunctive for various health conditions. Interest continues to grow in the use of CBD for chronic pain and arthritis pain management — read on to learn more.

Understanding arthritis

Arthritis is a broad term describing various conditions that cause inflammation of the joints. Common symptoms include persistent joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, which make movement and daily activities difficult. These symptoms can also lead to fatigue, decreased physical activity, and a reduced quality of life.

The most common type is osteoarthritis (OA). Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease resulting from wear and tear, affecting the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones. It commonly impacts the knees, hips, hands, and spine, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. It usually affects older people, but early onset (before age 50) is common in people with heavy labor jobs.

Another type of arthritis you may have heard of is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of your joints. This causes chronic inflammation, pain, and joint damage. It often affects smaller joints, such as those in the hands and feet, and is likely to affect both sides simultaneously.

How CBD works for arthritis: possible benefits

CBD may help with arthritis-related symptoms, such as pain, anxiety and insomnia. However, there have been no rigorous clinical studies on cannabinoids and arthritis to confirm this, so further research is needed.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis that you may wish to avoid when treating arthritis. For this reason, some people worry about CBD and THC content.

However, hemp-derived CBD is extracted from the hemp plant, which contains very low levels of THC in comparison to marijuana. It's also unlikely that you'll unwittingly buy a product with high-inducing levels of THC, as these are illegal in the U.S.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a key role in regulating processes in your body, including pain and inflammation. It is a complex system made up of endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced naturally in the body), receptors (CB1 and CB2), and enzymes that break down endocannabinoids. The ECS helps maintain homeostasis within the body, ensuring that various functions stay balanced.

How CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system

The exact mechanism of how CBD interacts with the ECS is still unknown. However, the most popular theory is that it blocks CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body without directly binding to them. It’s believed that by preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids, CBD may prolong their effects, providing relief from chronic pain and inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of CBD

CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. This is how CBD is believed to affect pain and swelling:

  • CB1 receptors. These are mainly found in your brain and nervous system. When CBD blocks the activity of these receptors, it may reduce your perception of pain by affecting the way your brain processes and transmits pain signals.
  • CB2 receptors. These are mostly found in your immune system, skin, muscles, and organs. They are responsible for the link between CBD and inflammation. By blocking these receptors, CBD may reduce inflammation, a common source of pain in conditions like arthritis.

Forms of CBD for arthritis

CBD is available in various forms, each with its own benefits. These include oils, topical CBD products, capsules, and edibles.

  • Oils. CBD oil is typically taken under the tongue. It can be conveniently added to food or drinks. Oils can also be processed into CBD tinctures and sprays.
  • Creams. CBD creams for arthritis are applied directly to the skin over the affected joint, which aims to provide potential targeted relief for pain and inflammation.
  • Capsules. CBD capsules offer a convenient and precise way to take CBD, as each capsule contains a specific dose. They are easy to work into a daily supplement routine.
  • Edibles. CBD-infused edibles, such as gummies, provide a tasty and discreet way to consume CBD. They are popular for their convenience and consistent dosing.

There are three overarching types of CBD: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and CBD isolate. Full-spectrum CBD contains a combination of natural compounds believed to improve its therapeutic effects.

It’s often preferred for its potential to offer a more comprehensive range of benefits compared to CBD isolate, which contains only pure CBD. However, full-spectrum contains trace amounts of THC — up to 0.3% — which are not large enough to cause psychoactive effects. These are removed in broad-spectrum CBD, maintaining all other compounds.

How much CBD should I use?

The right CBD dosage can vary depending on the form used and individual factors, such as weight, metabolism, and the severity of your symptoms. Generally, it’s best to start with a low dose and gradually increase until the desired effect is achieved. Studies have reported a wide range of doses, with most of them ranging from 100–800 mg/day.

However, there is no general consensus on what doses of CBD are safe, and recently, the Scottish Food Standards Agency has issued that adults should not consume more than 10 mg of CBD per day, which is a much lower dose than explored in various trials. It's unknown for how long it's safe to take CBD.

It is crucial to stay informed on the evolving regulatory landscape for CBD products and consult with healthcare professionals before the use of any CBD-containing products.

What form of CBD is most effective for arthritis?

The best CBD for joint pain and arthritis depends on your symptoms and preferences. CBD oil or capsules might be a good option for overall pain relief and effects throughout your body since they can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. Creams can provide direct relief to the affected area for localized pain and inflammation. Experimenting with different forms can help you find the most effective method for your needs.

Safety and side effects

Some people may experience side effects of CBD, although it is generally well-tolerated. These can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache

One study found that 11% of people experienced dry mouth and 3% experienced fatigue when using CBD. Less than 2% of people experienced all other side effects.

CBD interactions with other medications

CBD has been reported to interact with several medications. These include:

  • Anti-epileptic medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Opioid analgesics
  • Acetaminophen

Who should steer clear of CBD?

Certain groups of people have a higher risk of side effects when taking CBD. These include people taking medications that interact with CBD and people with:

  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart problems
  • A weakened immune system

If you fall into one of these groups, speak to your doctor for advice before consuming any CBD products.

Safety considerations and guidelines

When using CBD, choose high-quality products from reputable sources. Look for products that have been third-party tested for purity and potency. Start with a low dose and monitor your body's response. If you experience any side effects, stop using the product and seek medical advice.

Should you try CBD for arthritis?

Thanks to its potential anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, CBD may offer relief from arthritis. However, it is important to know it's an adjunctive method and approach it with realistic expectations and as part of an inflammatory arthritis treatment plan that includes conventional therapies, lifestyle changes, and regular medical consultations.

Different states have varying regulations regarding the legality of CBD products, contributing to the diverse market landscape. Please review the rules governing the sale and use of CBD in your state before making any intended purchases of CBD products.

When to speak to your doctor

Speak to your doctor before you start taking CBD, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. Your doctor can provide personalized advice and help you understand the potential benefits and risks.

Regular follow-ups can also help monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed. Contact your doctor for advice as soon as possible if you experience any side effects.

CBD may offer benefits for arthritis, including potentially reduced pain and inflammation, which may improve your quality of life and make it easier to get around. However, further research is needed on this new therapy. Speak to a healthcare professional for personalized advice before starting treatment with CBD.

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