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Can CBD Topicals Help with Arthritis?

In the wake of cannabis’ ongoing legalization in the West, cannabidiol (or CBD) has been enjoying a huge rise in popularity. Due to cannabis’ history of illegality in modern times, CBD and other cannabinoids have not been studied as extensively as they should be. Fortunately, science is beginning to catch up. More research is needed, but there is evidence to suggest that CBD could be used for a wide range of medicinal purposes: to reduce pain, reduce inflammation, fight insomnia, reduce anxiety, and treat some forms of epilepsy, among other things. 

One of CBD’s most well-known and well-documented effects is pain relief, so it makes sense that many consumers are turning to CBD and cannabis to help alleviate arthritis pain. Arthritis is, unfortunately, very common – 15.3% of all Canadians older than 12 have been diagnosed with the condition. Anecdotal evidence found on message boards such as Reddit show that many arthritis sufferers have found relief by using CBD topicals, while others experience little to no effect. Evidently, it isn’t a solution that works for everyone. But, what do we know for sure?

Research

As with most things relating to CBD (as well as other cannabinoids, and the entire cannabis plant), there is a disappointing lack of conclusive, large-scale research into CBD’s effect on arthritis, specifically. However, there is currently no known cure for arthritis, so treatments are focused on managing they symptoms instead. Pain and inflammation are two primary symptoms of arthritis, and CBD (as well as THC and other cannabinoids) have shown some promise in reducing these symptoms’ severity.

One 2008 study showed that cannabis (the whole plant) can be used as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory. An earlier study conducted in 2006 showed that Sativex, a cannabis-based pharmaceutical drug that contains THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio, helped to reduce arthritis pain. 

Unfortunately, the THC content of Sativex and the cannabis plant itself is a significant drawback for some. Many arthritis sufferers may not enjoy the “high” that THC causes, or may enjoy it but have jobs or other responsibilities that the high would interfere with. It is for this reason that many of the studies regarding cannabis’ medicinal uses focus on CBD, cannabis’ most prevalent non-psychoactive cannabinoid.

Another study conducted in 2016 used arthritic rats as subjects, and found that transdermal applications of CBD over the course of four days resulted in a  significant reduction in inflammation and behaviors that indicated that the rats were experiencing pain. A study published in 2017 showed that in a rat model, prophylactic use of CBD prevented the ongoing development of nerve damage and pain in the rats’ osteoarthritic joints, with no negative side effects.

Currently, there has not been any conclusive research on CBD’s effects on human arthritis. However, the evidence from animal trials is very hopeful, and CBD use is accompanied by few, if any, side effects. As an added bonus, cannabis (and the cannabinoids it contains) do not interact negatively with opiates. This means that even if you are using opiates to treat arthritis pain, cannabis can be used to augment that treatment. This allows patients to use less of a more dangerous drug, even if it can’t be completely replaced with cannabis. There is also a chance that CBD could help repair joints that were damaged by rheumatoid arthritis, rather than just treat the associated pain – however, more research is needed before we’ll know for sure.

How to Use CBD Topicals to Treat Arthritis

So, while there isn’t conclusive evidence that proves beyond doubt that CBD and other cannabinoids can effectively treat the symptoms of arthritis, there is a body of evidence – both anecdotal and research-based – that suggests that cannabis-derived topicals could work. So, how do you go about trying it?

Well, you’ll want to get started with low doses of a CBD-only product, as these are the ones least likely to come with any side effects. Note that topicals might not take effect immediately – you may not notice effects until you have been using them for several days or a week. If that doesn’t work, consider switching to a full-spectrum product, with all of the cannabinoids present rather than just CBD. Maybe the added boost of the entourage effect is all you need to boost the treatment’s effectiveness.

You may also want to give a few different topical brands a try. Creating a product that penetrates the skin, but doesn’t absorb into the bloodstream can be tricky – so, you may find that some products work better than others. Also, note that CBD can interact with several medications, so you may want to consult with your doctor before adding CBD to your regime.

CBD has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, and may even have the potential to reverse or at least halt the progression of arthritis. More research is needed before solid conclusions can be drawn, but CBD’s lack of any severe side effects means that while it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s still a safe experiment. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

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