Cannabidiol oil, known as CBD oil or hemp oil, is all the rage these days, touted as a panacea for everything from cancer pain to depression and anxiety. Some research has indicated that it can relieve the pain of various forms of arthritis as well. CBD oil contains extracts from cannabis plants, which is the same plant family that marijuana (pot) comes from.
But let’s get this out of the way: CBD is not the same thing as pot and it will not get you high. The only thing the two have in common is that they are both derived from members of the cannabis family. Marijuana is the plant that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance that induces the “high.”
CBD is not the same thing as pot and it will not get you high.
While marijuana contains some CBD, it is grown for its THC content. The hemp plant is the one that provides the source for the majority of the CBD oil products on the market today. Hemp contains an insignificant amount of THC (less than 0.3 percent); in contrast, marijuana can contain anywhere from 5 percent to 35 percent.
Some people have started using CBD oil to help relieve pain and lower inflammation, but the jury’s still out on whether or to what degree using it can help people with arthritis. Here’s what we know so far:
CBD Oil and Arthritis Pain Relief
The mechanism responsible for CBD’s positive health effects is not entirely understood, but researchers believe that the compound attaches to receptors in the body known as cannabinoid receptors; these may, in turn, cause the body to produce natural cannabinoids.
CBD oil doesn’t affect your brain the same way that THC does. THC interacts with different receptors in the brain than does CBD. According to Healthline, CBD oil interacts with two receptors, called CB1 and CB2, which can help reduce pain and the effects of inflammation.
“These receptors are primarily involved with coordination, movement, pain, emotional output, and the immune system,” explains Faye Rim, MDD, a physiatrist and pain management specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
CB2’s involvement in immune system could help explain why CBD oil may be helpful in people with inflammatory autoimmune forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Dr. Rim says some of her arthritis patients have found relief, but she points out that CBD oil is only intended for use as an adjunct to medications, not as a first-line treatment.
How Do You Use CBD for Arthritis Pain?
CBD can be taken as a liquid, a tincture, in capsules, or applied topically. You can take the capsules orally, add the liquid to foods or drinks, or apply creams with CBD to affected joints.
Mild side effects of using CBD may include sleep problems or nausea. The topical CBD arthritis cream occasionally causes an allergic reaction, so test it on a small area of skin first.
Most studies on CBD and arthritis have been done on rodents, including one published in a 2017 issue of the journal Pain that suggests CBD oil may relieve joint pain in osteoarthritis. A study in a 2016 issue of Arthritis Care and Research found that CBD oil may improve pain relief, sleep, and quality of life in some rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, but the sample size was extremely small, making the study mostly insignificant.
As Medical News Today reports, “there a lack of scientific evidence to prove conclusively that CBD is an effective arthritis treatment for humans.” More research, especially on bigger groups of human participants, will need to be conducted to better understand how CBD oil affects arthritis symptoms like pain, inflammation, and fatigue.
“I find it’s hit or miss,” says Dr. Rim. “[CBD] helps some people and has no effect on others, but I recommend that my patients try it, as there don’t seem to be any problematic drug interactions or major side effects.”
Currently, the FDA has approved CBD oil only for use in people with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. It is not approved for the treatment of arthritis or chronic pain.
What to Know Before You Buy CBD
Because CBD products are currently unregulated — and often imported — it is very difficult to know exactly what you’re getting, and how much of it, in any given formulation.
This lack of regulation can result in products that vary widely in quality, Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told HealthDay News.
Furthermore, CBD is legal in most states, but not all. Make sure you understand your state’s laws before purchasing or taking CBD oil.
When recommending CBD oil to her patients, Dr. Rim says she has no specific dosages or brands in mind. “I generally refer them to a health food store and encourage them to try a small amount at first and to increase if it’s well-tolerated.”
The hope, she says, is that we will have more definitive data on dosages and quality products over time.
You should check with your doctor before trying CBD oil to make sure it’s safe for you and won’t negatively interact with any medications you take.