Enthusiasts of cannabidiol (better known as CBD) rave about the substance’s health benefits. Some small studies have shown that CBD could be a remedy for anxiety and help children with post-traumatic stress disorder get to sleep. The substance was even FDA-approved last year as a prescription drug to manage rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
So naturally, you might be wondering: Can CBD help people with arthritis and related diseases cope with pain? Anecdotal reports from patients and some preliminary research suggests yes, but the science is still emerging and more research is needed.
Here’s what you need to know right now about how to use CBD to ease arthritis symptoms, how to find a high-quality CBD product, and how to work with your doctor to incorporate CBD into your arthritis treatment plan.
What Is CBD, and Can It Help with Arthritis?
CBD is a chemical found derived from hemp. Hemp and marijuana are both types of cannabis plants, but they are very different from each other. They each have different quantities of various phytocannabinoids, which are substances naturally found in the cannabis plant. (It’s sort of like how different kinds of berries contain different combinations of antioxidants.)
- Marijuana contains an abundance of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the cannabinoid that gets you high.
- Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC. It contains CBD, which is a cannabinoid that doesn’t have any psychoactive effects. CBD cannot make you feel high. Instead, CBD works in other ways with your endocannabinoid system, which is a group of receptors in the body that are affected by the dozens of other documented cannabinoids.
“Cannabinoids can inhibit or excite the release of neurotransmitters [brain chemicals] and play a role in modulating the body’s natural inflammatory response, which are the two things we’re concerned about when talking about CBD for arthritis,” says Hervé Damas,MD, a Miami-based physician and founder of Grassroots Herbals, a CBD product company.
CBD is thought to work on pain in two parts of the body: the site of soreness (such as your finger joints) and the central nervous system, which sends pain signals to the brain when it detects certain stimulation or damage to nerves and cells.
The ability for CBD to calm that response is one reason the compound might be a viable pain remedy for people with arthritis. Another is CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation occurs when your body is fighting a perceived infection. In autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system is attacking healthy parts of your body like your joints.
It’s important to note that while early research on animals has shown promise for CBD, more research is needed before we can draw anything conclusive for humans. However, anecdotal reports from people who have started incorporating CBD into their arthritis treatment are positive. One CreakyJoints member shared on Facebook that topical CBD “helps better than any other ointment I’ve ever used.” CBD could be worth exploring as a potential solution to pain as part of an overall arthritis treatment plan.
How to Find the Right CBD Product for You
From supermarkets and pharmacies to health food stores and online retailers, CBD can be found just about everywhere. But how do you choose the right CBD product for your health needs?
1. Pick the CBD Formulation You Want to Use
CBD comes in a few different forms. Commonly used ones include:
- Edibles: You eat CBD infused into gummies, chocolates, sodas, baked goods, and other edible items
- Vaporizer: You inhale CBD through a vape pen that heats up the oil
- Sublingual drops: You take a few drops under your tongue of a high-concentrate solution of CBD
- Topicals: You apply creams, lotions, balms and other products with CBD directly to your skin
The different types of CBD take effect in your body at different rates. Here’s how long you can expect different types of CBD products to kick in, according to Dr. Damas:
- Edibles: 30 minutes to two hours
- Vaporizer: Two minutes
- Sublingual drops: 15-30 minutes
- Topicals: 10 minutes
2. Look for Signs of High-Quality CBD
Don’t just buy the least expensive one on the shelf. There are lots of poor-quality CBD products on the market (some of which don’t contain the amount of CBD they claim, per these FDA warning letters).
Dr. Damas recommends looking for CBD products that are made in the United States, use a carbon dioxide-based extraction method (“It’s the cleanest,” he says), come from organically grown hemp, and don’t contain a lot of extra ingredients. Consumer Reports also has a thorough guide to shopping for CBD that can help you find a high-quality product.
3. Pick the Right Dose
As for dosing of CBD oil, the jury’s still out on just how much you should take. Start with a low dose (such as 5 to 10 mg), and gradually work your way up over a few weeks until you notice the effects.
“Usually people find pain relief when they take 20 to 35 milligrams of CBD daily,” says Dr. Damas.
You can take the full dose at once or break it up throughout the day. Experiment with what makes you feel best. You should start seeing improvements shortly after you start supplementing with CBD, with more noticeable effects kicking in after two weeks.
How to Discuss CBD with Your Doctor
You should talk to the doctor who treats your arthritis before you start taking CBD or any other supplement. They can let you know if CBD might interact with any medications you currently take or potentially worsen a chronic condition. For example, “CBD may make it easier to bleed,” says Dr. Damas. “So if you’re going to have surgery, you might want to stop taking it before the procedure.”
Check out this list of potential drug interactions with CBD from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, but you should always check with your doctor about your individual case.
Keep in mind that your doctor’s knowledge of CBD might be limited. There isn’t a lot of research about the benefits of CBD or about ideal dosages or formulations, so your doctor might not be able to be overly specific in terms of their recommendations. However, they still need to know that you’re taking CBD. Chances are, they’ll be interested in hearing about your experience using CBD products and your self-reports on how CBD may be helping to manage your pain or other symptoms.