Is CBD Oil Good for Arthritis?

Reading time - 10 minutes - June 22, 2023

In recent years, CBD – also known as cannabidiol – has become a favourite among wellness fanatics as well as an increasingly well-researched compound within the scientific community. Its abundance of potential health benefits coupled with its non-intoxicating nature has made this cannabinoid incredibly popular with people from all walks of life – including those living with a number of health conditions.

A growing body of clinical evidence suggests that CBD and other cannabis derivatives may be useful in a wide range of conditions. These potential therapeutic benefits have seen a once relatively unknown compound rocket to popularity as a wellness ingredient as well as an increasingly well-researched medicinal ingredient. CBD consumers in the UK and beyond are embracing CBD oil and other products for general wellness purposes as well as more specific complaints such as anxiety (check out our recent blog: ‘Understanding the Anti-Anxiety Potential of CBD’), insomnia, and arthritis. 

In this article, we’re focussing on the latter of these conditions with the aim of answering the question: ‘Is CBD Oil good for arthritis?’. We’ll be taking a look at what we know about CBD so far and the existing evidence in this particular area. So, let’s start at the very beginning.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol is one of dozens of compounds produced by the cannabis plant known as cannabinoids. This category of compounds has been found to possess some impressive therapeutic properties which have helped to make cannabis a popular medicinal and recreational drug for thousands of years. But it is only in the last few decades that our understanding of these compounds individually has begun to develop. Increased research into the potential of cannabinoids in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has helped to boost CBD’s popularity among consumers looking for a natural health supplement without intoxicating effects.

Unlike THC, another common cannabinoid to which CBD is closely related, cannabidiol does not cause the intoxicating “high” that is widely associated with cannabis use. This quality, alongside the compound’s potential anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant (among many more) properties has seen cannabidiol infused into a mind-boggling variety of health-focused products in recent years. Like many compounds, CBD interacts with a number of receptors in our bodies. These interactions may influence a number of processes, including mood and anxiety, sleep, and even pain signalling.

How Does it Work?

CBD is believed to interact with a number of receptors in our bodies, including cannabinoid receptors and serotonin receptors. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms through which CBD and other cannabinoids influence our bodies, these interactions are thought to trigger the regulation of various vital processes. For example, current evidence suggests that CBD exposure could help the body to regulate mood, temperature, appetite, and pain signalling, among other functions.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis refers to a number of ailments, including joint diseases, that are mainly characterised by joint pain. While some types are more well-known, there are actually more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions that can affect people of all ages, races, and sexes. Arthritis can be a significant source of chronic pain which, if left unmanaged, can be debilitating. 

It is estimated that around 8 million people in the UK are affected by the most common form of arthritis – osteoarthritis – alone. What’s more, across all arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, around 17 million people may be affected and experience related pain, disability, fatigue and often comorbid symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Some forms of arthritis may also affect other parts of the body, including the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin and can cause permanent changes to joints. While arthritis is not considered a disease of ageing, some types of arthritis are more common in older people. 

There is no cure for arthritis, however, a number of treatment options, including medications, physiotherapy, and in more severe cases, surgery, may be considered. However, in a climate where a growing number of people would rather embrace natural therapies, CBD is becoming an increasingly appealing option to those suffering from arthritis. But is there any evidence that it could help with this complex category of conditions?

CBD and Arthritis – What’s the Evidence?

In recent decades, an increasing amount of laboratory and clinical research has been conducted to further our understanding of the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives. This research has particularly accelerated recently, with cannabidiol (CBD) becoming one of the most popular cannabis compounds, both in the medicinal and wellness worlds. There is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that CBD has impressive anti-inflammatory potential which may prove to be useful in the treatment of chronic pain conditions – including arthritis. 

The majority of studies in this area to date have focused on in-vitro and animal models of arthritis (most commonly osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis). However, these studies offer an interesting insight into the potential of CBD for arthritis – which is slowly gaining support from human trials. For example, a 2020 study which aimed to investigate the effects of CBD in rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts concluded that “CBD possesses anti-arthritic activity and might ameliorate arthritis via targeting synovial fibroblasts under inflammatory conditions.”

That may sound like a mouthful, but similar findings have been found in a number of other studies. A 2016 study animal study tested the efficacy of a transdermal CBD gel in a rat model of arthritis. The findings indicated that CBD significantly reduced joint swelling and spontaneous pain (as measured by limb posture), as well as immune cell infiltration and thickening of the synovial membrane. As a result, the researchers concluded that “topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviours and inflammation without evidence side effects.”

But what about arthritis in humans – Is there any evidence that people with arthritis could really benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD?

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Human Studies of CBD for Arthritis

In 2022, a cross-sectional study was conducted to explore patient-perceived effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on symptoms of arthritis. To determine this, an anonymous questionnaire was distributed to a self-selected convenience sample of people with arthritis through social media accounts and newsletters. A total of 428 participants who had tried CBD for arthritis were included in the final analysis, and the results were very promising.

The majority of participants (70%) had tried CBD specifically for symptomatic relief of arthritis. Overall, the majority of participants also reported subjective improvements in their symptoms following the use of CBD products: Over a third (37.9%) reported that their daily pain was “much better”, and 45.1” reported that their pain was “a little better”. Improvements were also reported in physical function with 28.7% reporting feeling “much better,” and 37.4% reporting feeling “a little better.” Some participants also reported improvements in sleep quality – a common comorbidity of arthritis (37.6% reported feeling “much better,” and 28.5% reported “a little better”).

A 2022 randomised controlled trial also highlighted the potential efficacy of CBD in the treatment of arthritis. Researchers set out to assess the effects of a topical CBD formulation in patients with symptomatic thumb basal joint arthritis. For the study, 18 patients were randomised to either a twice-daily treatment with CBD (6.2 mg/mL CBD with shea butter) or shea butter alone for two weeks. 

These results highlight the promising anti-inflammatory potential of CBD and the role this popular cannabinoid may play in the treatment of arthritic conditions in the future. However, it should be noted that the CBD formulations used in the studies outlined above (with the exception of the 2022 patient survey) were of a medical-grade and should not be compared with over-the-counter CBD products that are becoming increasingly available in the UK and the rest of the world. 

Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence – including that mentioned in this article – reveals a continuous trend in arthritis patients turning to alternative products like CBD for relief of their symptoms. The researchers found that CBD treatment was associated with improvements in patient-reported pain and disability scores compared with baseline without adverse events. As such, it was again concluded that CBD may be beneficial in the treatment of some forms of arthritis.

How are people using CBD for arthritis?

People who are interested in the potential of CBD for the management of arthritis symptoms have a wide number of options available to them. In recent years, the CBD supplement market has exploded in the UK, leading to an abundance of versatile products, including CBD topicals, CBD edibles, and even CBD vape pens. While it is hard to say which products are the best for arthritis, in particular, the current evidence may give us some clues.

As we can see from the evidence mentioned above, many of the studies that have assessed the potential of CBD for arthritis have focused on topical applications. This includes products such as creams and gels that can be applied directly to the affected area. In contrast, other products, such as CBD e-liquids, gummies, and capsules are often reported to offer a more generalised effect, which may be useful for those whose pain affects various areas of the body.

Whether you are looking to test out the potential anti-inflammatory properties of CBD for your arthritis pain or are interested in many of the other potential benefits of CBD, you are sure to find the ideal product for you. Be sure to always buy from a trusted and reputable brand and always consult with a doctor if you have any existing conditions. Finally, remember that CBD products should are not medicines and should not be used for the treatment of any condition. If you are concerned about your health, always consult with a doctor.

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