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Cannabidiol (CBD) for Osteoarthritis Symptoms

By Sherry Christiansen

Key Takeaways

  1. Osteoarthritis is a common disease involving joint pain, inflammation, and other symptoms. 
  2. Preliminary studies show CBD has a strong potential for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis. 
  3. A significant number of people with arthritis use CBD for symptom relief (such as pain, morning stiffness, anxiety, and sleep problems). 
  4. The Arthritis Foundation released a report on the safe use of CBD, based on the number of anecdotal reports of its efficacy. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) for Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. Osteoarthritis is the most common degenerative joint disease in the United States, affecting nearly 27 million Americans.1 There is a growing body of evidence showing CBD has many health benefits that may help ease symptoms of osteoarthritis, including its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiolytic, and sleep promotion properties.  

What is Osteoarthritis?

The Arthritis Foundation reports over 100 types of arthritis; while each type may differ in its physiologic impact on the body, they all cause pain and inflammation. 2  

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one type of arthritis; it is the most common type of arthritis worldwide. OA results in moderate to severe disability which affects 43 million people globally; the disease is 11th on the list of the most debilitating disorders in the world. 7 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:  

  • Joint pain and stiffness (particularly early in the morning)  
  • Intermittent inflammation 
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nerves)  
  • Joint degeneration  
  • Loss of flexibility  
  • Grating sensation  
  • Bone spurs  
  • Degeneration of joints 

When considering CBD for arthritis symptoms, it’s important to keep in mind that there are over 100 types of arthritis. Although symptoms always include pain and inflammation, they may not all respond the same to treatment. 

Statistics on Arthritis and CBD Use 

In 2018, the Arthritis Foundation reported that 29% of people who have had arthritis for 10 years or longer were surveyed about the use of CBD for arthritis symptoms; 2500 people answered the survey questions, the results included:2 

  • 29% currently use CBD to help control arthritis symptoms 
  • 79% are currently using CBD, have used it in the past or are considering using it 
  • 63% of those currently using CBD report daily use  
  • Three out of four people using CBD for arthritis symptoms report it is effective or very Over 30% report relief from morning stiffness 
  • 71% report an improvement in sleep 
  • 67% report an improvement in physical function 
  • Over 30% report feeling less fatigue 
  • 77% report relief of anxiety symptoms 
  • 67% report an improvement in depressed mood 

CBD and Arthritis Symptom Relief

Cannabis has healing properties that may help ease some symptoms of osteoarthritis, these properties include: 

CBD is also thought to have other properties that could help with arthritis-related symptoms, including: 

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and Arthritis Symptoms  

CBD is an exogenous cannabinoid that acts on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to lower inflammation and act as an analgesic. Learn more about cannabinoids and the ECS here

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Guidelines from the Arthritis Foundation

Although CBD is not FDA approved for the medical treatment of arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation has published some general guidelines for CBD use. This is because of the number of people with arthritis reporting its effectiveness for arthritis related symptoms.  

According to the Arthritis Foundation, “We are intrigued by the potential of CBD to help people find pain relief and are on record urging the FDA to expedite the study and regulation of these products. While no universal quality standards or regulations exist, we have listened to our constituents and consulted with leading experts to develop general recommendations for adults who are interested in trying CBD.” According to the Arthritis Foundation, when taken in moderate doses, no potential drug interactions or safety issues [from CBD use] have been identified. The Arthritis Foundation’s general recommendations include: 3 

  • Never replace CBD for arthritis prescription medication. 
  • Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking CBD. 
  • Start with a low dose, if the optimal effect is not realized, gradually increase the dose in small increments each week.  
  • Buy from a reputable company that has each batch tested by an independent lab for purity, potency, and safety; be sure the lab provides a certificate of analysis.  

Studies

A European Journal of Pain Study 

A 2016 animal study by the European Journal of Pain discovered mechanisms by which CBD inhibits two of the most difficult symptoms to treat: chronic pain and neuropathic pain (peripheral neuropathy). According to the study authors, “Transdermal CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling, limb posture scores as a rating of spontaneous pain.” 8 

A 2017 Animal Study 

In a 2017 study published in the journal Pain, the effectiveness of CBD for osteoarthritic pain and joint neuropathy was evaluated. The study authors reported CBD decreased joint inflammation and served as a protectant for the nerves. Thus, CBD was found to help with symptoms of pain and neuropathy in the animal study subjects. 4 

A 2018 Compilation Review of Studies 

According to a 2018 compilation review of studies, “There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that cannabinoids are beneficial for a range of clinical conditions, including pain, inflammation, epilepsy, sleep disorders, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, anorexia, schizophrenia and other conditions.” 5 

A 2020 Review Study 

The 2020 review study reviewed recent mouse model studies and reports: 1 

  • Cannabis attenuates pro-inflammatory immune responses 
  • CBD was found effective in lowering pain in mice with acute arthritic conditions 

Resources

  1. Gusho CA, Court T. Cannabidiol: a brief review of its therapeutic and pharmacologic efficacy in the management of joint disease. Cureus. Published online March 23, 2020.  doi:10.7759/cureus.7375 
  2. The Arthritis Foundation. Patients Tell Us About CBD Use. Updated August 8, 2021 
  3. The Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Releases First CBD Guidance for Adults with Arthritis. Updated September 24, 2019. 
  4. Philpott HT, O’Brien M, McDougall JJ. Attenuation of early phase inflammation by cannabidiol prevents pain and nerve damage in rat osteoarthritis 
  5. Pain. 2017;158(12):2442-2451. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001052 
  6. Bruni N, Della pepa C, Oliaro-bosso S, Pessione E, Gastaldi D, Dosio F. Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment. Molecules. 2018;23(10) doi:10.3390/molecules23102478  
  7. Sen, R. and Hurley, J. National Library of Medicine. Osteoarthritis. Updated May, 2022. 
  8. Hammell DC, Zhang LP, Ma F, et al. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. Eur J Pain. 2016;20(6):936-948.doi: 10.1002/ejp.818  
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