Wondering if CBD for rheumatoid arthritis actually works? Well wonder no more, because it most certainly does. Keep on reading to find out why.
As is the case with other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition with no known antigen. In other words, it’s a disease wherein white blood cells – for apparently no rhyme or reason – attack healthy cells in the body’s major joint areas. This causes intense pain and inflammation in areas like the knees, ankles, fingers, and hips.
While most people are familiar with THC in the respect that it helps combat pain, Cannabidiol (CBD), in turn, has long since been proven as an effective treatment method for pain related to swelling and inflammation. And in fact, as we’ll discuss in this article, several studies have even been carried out specifically showcasing the drug’s potential therapeutic benefits on RA-related pain.
If you’ve been waiting for a safe, all-natural, effective replacement for your prescription RA pain medications, CBD oil just might be the treatment option you’ve been looking for.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: What is it, What causes it, and Who’s at risk
Like we mentioned, RA is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, severe inflammation, and loss of function in the joints.
In healthy individuals, proper joint functioning is administered in part by a layer of connective tissue called the synovium, which produces a lubricating mechanism called synovial fluid. In rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, the cells in the synovial tissue are attacked by the body’s immune system, causing them to thicken and subsequently damage surrounding cartilage and bone tissue. And while doctors are unsure of what exactly initiates the immune attack on the healthy cells, they have been able to determine several risk factors associated with developing rheumatoid arthritis:
- Sex: Women are more than three times likelier to develop RA than men
- Genetics: The presence of specific genes may cause increased susceptibility to environmental factors that trigger onset of the disease
- Age: People between the ages of 40 and 60 are most at risk for initial onset
- Obesity: Overweight individuals are more at risk for developing RA due to weaker metabolisms (which promote joint area inflammation)
Moreover, it is known that the presence of rheumatoid factor – a specific antibody in the bloodstream – is in some way responsible for initiating the white blood cell attack on healthy joint tissue, though its exact physiological mechanism(s) and/or environmental trigger(s) remain unknown. (Also, not all people who test positive for rheumatoid factor in the bloodstream end up displaying symptoms of RA).
In terms of prevalence, the disease is estimated to affect about 1.5 million people, making it the second most common joint disease worldwide after osteoarthritis. Also, given the fact that RA is a systemic disease (meaning it affects other areas of the body), many sufferers will eventually experience subsequent complications with the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, and nerve tissue.
Conventional (Non-CBD Related) Treatment Methods for RA
As it stands, the primary aim for current rheumatoid arthritis medications is to target localized inflammation. That is to say, to target the effects of the disease rather than the underlying cause of it.
While unfortunate, this is thoroughly understandable; until the mechanism or genetic stimuli of rheumatoid factor is discovered (and thus the stimuli of the immune attack on joint tissue), the disease will have to remain existing as ‘treatable’ rather than ‘curable’.
Naturally, the course and range of treatment options will be determined by the severity of RA expressed in any given individual.
For milder cases, standard over-the-counter NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, Aleve, Aspirin, and Bayer are recommended, and can be effective. However, rarely are these medications strong enough to alleviate conditions in the more advanced stages of the disease.
In more severe cases, many people will be prescribed pharmaceutical-strength drugs as a means to deal with the chronic pain. DMARD’s (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) and biologics are common options, but these treatments – in addition to being expensive – can be incredibly dangerous. They work to modify the immune system, with the goal being to minimize onset attacks on joint tissue, but in doing so they pose a severe risk of infection. Methotrexate, for example – one of the most commonly prescribed RA biologics – has been well-documented to increase risk of serious infections due to inhibited immune response.
Other popular RA DMARD’s (such as Minocin, Azulfidine, and Plaquenil) pose an equally dangerous risk.
Opioid painkillers, the strongest pharmaceutical pain relievers on the market, are another common treatment option, but we hardly need to go into the myriad risks of abuse, reliance, and overdose potential that they present.
And lastly, while surgery for rheumatoid arthritis is an option in some cases, it’s by no means a “guaranteed fix” as it often is with osteoarthritis (osteoarthritis is pain in the joints due to mechanical ‘wear and tear’ – not due to an autoimmune response).
CBD for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Medical and Physiological Implications
What’s exciting about CBD oil as an emerging RA treatment is its proven physiological role as an immune modulator.
T-cells are a type of white blood cell that are crucial to the body’s ability to produce a healthy immune response. Likewise, they’ve also been shown to play a key role in the molecular onset of rheumatoid arthritis – they can be one of, if not the contributing factor to development of the disease.
In a recent study, however, CBD was proven to suppress localized T-cell function and activity, suggesting that the cannabinoid may be the only scientifically-backed drug capable of treating the underlying cause of RA. While this is no more than speculation at this point, the notion that the drug may play a key role in suppression of autoimmune responses is nothing short of phenomenal.
Of course, though, much more commonly understood and thoroughly studied has been CBD’s ability to suppress inflammation, and thereby minimize localized pain. This is where the drug has proven to be a viable treatment option for thousands upon thousands of RA sufferers, and is the reason why it’s allowed many to shed their pharmaceutical painkillers altogether.
In fact, a study published in Rheumatology by Dr. David Blake of the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, has showcased cannabis’ direct role in the therapeutic treatment of chronic pain brought on by RA-induced joint inflammation.
The double-blind study, whose objective was to “assess the efficacy of a cannabis-based medicine in the treatment of pain due to rheumatoid arthritis”, was carried out over the course of 5 weeks on 58 RA patients. 31 of the patients received a CBD-containing medication, while 27 of them received placebo. After the final week of treatment, results showed that the cannabis medication produced “statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, [and] quality of sleep.”
Additionally, other studies have pointed to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is an innate network of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the human body, as “active participants” in the pathophysiology of both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis.
According to one study published in February 2014, cannabinoid receptors of the ECS were found to be “ubiquitously distributed” throughout body organ and tissue systems (including the synovial membrane tissue affected by RA), and to play a central role in the regulation of “pain, inflammation, and even joint function.”
Furthermore, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has gone so far as to declare the endocannabinoid system (due to its central role in regulating homeostasis), as “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
In any regard, no matter how clear the objective evidence on CBD oil for rheumatoid arthritis is, the simple fact that thousands of people use it every day to effectively treat their condition has been enough to galvanize most chronic sufferers to take it into serious consideration. Not only is the drug far cheaper than most prescription medications, given the fact that it is a 100% natural extract of the cannabis plant, it is an exponentially safer option that produces far fewer (essentially zero) side effects.
And one final thing of note, it’s important to point out that unlike THC, CBD does not get you high. While whole-plant marijuana (i.e. the flowers that are broken up and smoked as ‘weed’) contain copious amounts of both THC and CBD, CBD oil has hardly any traces of the psychoactive ingredient – the only side effects it has ever shown to produce is mild fatigue, dizziness, and irritability.
The Bottom Line: CBD for Rheumatoid Arthritis
As scientific research has more than capably pointed out, CBD for rheumatoid arthritis is without a doubt an effective and medically viable treatment option for the disease – there are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.
That being said, it is important to point out that not all people suffering from RA will experience the same therapeutic effects of the drug – some in fact, may not experience any effects at all. The goal of medicinal research is to objectively declare the validity of a treatment method – not to declare it an effective means of treatment for any given individual.
Likewise, it’s also important to understand that not all CBD oils are created the same. Some brands, in fact, have recently been questioned by the FDA as to the validity of their “cannabidiol containing” products. Thus, when shopping around for the right oils and tinctures, make sure you do plenty of research and choose from a quality manufacturer, in addition to speaking with a health care professional, if at all possible.
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