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CBD Oil for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is It Effective?

Posted on January 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Emily Wagner, M.S.

Many people with RA and other chronic pain conditions report that cannabidiol (CBD) oil works to help ease their symptoms. Some early animal studies have also investigated the benefits of using CBD products for alleviating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The compound appears to have anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound that comes from the cannabis plant. It is a popular form of complementary and alternative medicine that has been used for a variety of conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CBD’s use in treating seizures associated with epilepsy in children. In addition, other small studies have found positive effects from the use of CBD for treating chronic pain from conditions including fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. Studies of animal models of osteoarthritis also show positive effects.

How Does CBD Work?

Your body makes compounds, called endocannabinoids, that are similar to other cannabinoids like CBD and THC (the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” of marijuana). The endocannabinoid system in the body is responsible for regulating several processes, including mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and pain perception.

Endocannabinoids have specialized cannabinoid receptors found on cells throughout the body, including on immune cells. When cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they can relieve pain or help fight inflammation. CBD may also help prevent enzymes in the body from breaking down endocannabinoids, which helps them stay effective on the receptors for longer.

How Effective Is CBD Oil in Treating RA?

Members of myRAteam have discussed using CBD oil with mixed results. For some, it works well for relieving joint pain in areas where they apply topical CBD products such as lotions, creams, or oils. Some have used tinctures, which are taken orally.

As one member said, “It helped with the pain in my lower spine and it made me sleep better.” Others find topical use helpful in particular, saying, “I use CBD hand cream with 600 milligrams and it is wonderful,” and “I use CBD oil on my stiff and painful hands at least daily. It helps me.”

Oral use may also work for relieving symptoms, according to one member, who said, “My neighbor also has RA and he takes a CBD tincture with 1,200 milligrams.”

Still, other members have tried using CBD with no luck. “I have the oil for RA, but I don’t feel that it helps,” said one member. Another agreed: “I have tried CBD lotion for my hands but don’t seem to feel any relief.”

What Does Research Say About CBD and RA?

In autoimmune diseases, such as RA, there is an imbalance in the immune system that results in increased inflammation and tissue damage. Treatments typically focus on reducing inflammation affecting swollen joints. Several studies have found that CBD treatment can block the progression of arthritis and stop further joint damage, but they were done in animal models of disease. More research is needed to confirm whether the potential benefits of CBD on RA extend to people, too.

Currently, two clinical trials are studying the use of cannabis in managing pain and inflammation in people with RA. The results will offer valuable information on how cannabis and CBD may improve the lives of people with RA.

CBD and THC

One study has looked at the effect of an oral spray, Sativex, in people with RA. Sativex contains both CBD and THC, and it is not currently approved for use in the United States. The preliminary study — performed in the United Kingdom — found that the drug provided a significant amount of pain relief and suppressed disease activity. Although these results seem promising, the study size was small, highlighting the need for more research.

Is CBD Safe To Use?

CBD is widely used, but there is still much experts do not know about it and its exact effects. Research continues to evaluate the safety and efficacy of CBD. You should use caution when beginning a new natural or complementary treatment, including CBD, for any medical condition.

The side effects of CBD can include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Anxiety
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

CBD can potentially interact with other drugs you may be taking to treat RA, as well. Talk to your doctor before adding CBD oil or any other natural remedy to your treatment routine. These drug interactions may make RA treatments less effective, or they could potentially be dangerous.

Treatments that may interact with CBD include:

  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve (naproxen) and Celebrex (celecoxib)
  • Xeljanz (tofacitinib)
  • Certain fibromyalgia medications, such as Lyrica (pregabalin) and Neurontin (gabapentin)
  • Certain antidepressants

Connect With Others Who Understand

On myRAteam, the social network for people with RA and their loved ones, more than 147,000 people come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with RA.

Have you used CBD to treat your RA? Share your experience in the comments below, or share your story on myRAteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

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