Arthritis is a common condition that causes inflammation of the joints and other tissues. We all know someone affected, whose hands, feet, or knees become red, swollen, and hot when their arthritis flares up. Left untreated, this inflammation causes pain and difficulty moving, making it hard to be productive and enjoy life.
Arthritis is a chronic condition, meaning that it persists for a long time or is constantly recurring. There is currently no cure. According to the Arthritis Society of Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians live with this condition1.
Types of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is sometimes referred to as “degenerative joint disease,” or “degenerative arthritis.” OA is caused by a wearing down of the cartilage in the joints, causing varying degrees of pain, stiffness and swelling. According to Health Canada, most Canadians will be affected by OA by the age of 702.
The risk of developing OA increases with age, obesity, previous joint injury, overuse of the joint, or genetics.
Inflammatory Arthritis (IA)
Inflammatory arthritis (IA) is due to inflammation in soft tissues that results in damage to the joint. Most forms of IA are also autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis). In these conditions, the immune system—the body’s defence system against infections and other invaders—mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Other forms of IA include gout and lupus.
Arthritis Treatment and How CBD May Help
Pain is the biggest challenge faced by Canadians with arthritis. Medications are usually used to provide relief and may help slow joint damage caused by inflammatory forms of arthritis. Some of these include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS, like ibuprofen and naproxen), corticosteroids and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS). These drugs can provide some relief, but unfortunately, they can also cause side-effects like nausea, vomiting, swelling of the feet and increased susceptibility to infection3.
Researchers have been looking for new options, and it’s possible that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) could hold some answers. The ECS plays a vital role in controlling tissue inflammation and pain4 and is also present in our joints5.
Scientists believe that using cannabinoids—like cannabidiol (CBD)—to target the ECS may help treat arthritis and other joint-related diseases. Unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating—it won’t get you “high.” CBD is also safe to use in humans and has a number of therapeutic uses, including treating epilepsy and fighting inflammation.
Learn More: A Medical Introduction to CBD
CBD is chemically similar to the natural compounds that our body produces to control the ECS. This makes CBD a good candidate for potential new treatments. While many studies have proven CBD is safe, there is only one published clinical study in humans that explored using it specifically to treat arthritis. The study, published in 2006, found that CBD administered with THC (in a drug called Sativex) reduced pain and improved sleep quality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis6.
Although there isn’t much human research about CBD and arthritis, we can look at several animal studies that suggest it could be an effective treatment option. For example, in a 2017 study, scientists artificially induced symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) in rats and treated the affected joints with CBD7. Rats treated with CBD had less inflammation, decreased pain response, and were able to bear more weight on the arthritic limb. The authors suggest that CBD could be effective at inhibiting pain and inflammation when administered around the joint.
In a more recent study with rats, researchers applied a CBD gel onto the skin of the arthritic joint and observed significantly reduced swelling and pain8 in the animals.
We have some early evidence that CBD may help treat the pain and swelling of arthritis, but more clinical studies in humans are required before we can draw firm conclusions. At the time of this writing, there is one human trial registered in ClinicalTrials.gov that will test if CBD can be used to treat9 OA and psoriatic arthritis (a form of arthritis that affects some people with psoriasis). This study will help add to our understanding of whether CBD can provide safe, reliable relief for patients with arthritis.
 Canada H. Seniors and Aging - Osteoarthritis. In: Health IsY, ed2008.
 McDougall JJ. Cannabinoids and pain control in the periphery. In: Cairns B, ed. Peripheral receptor targets for analgesia: novel approaches to pain. Hoboken, NJ.: John Wiley & Sons; 2009:325-345.
 Richardson D, Pearson RG, Kurian N, et al. Characterisation of the cannabinoid receptor system in synovial tissue and fluid in patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Res Ther. 2008;10(2):R43.
 Blake DR, Robson P, Ho M, Jubb RW, McCabe CS. Preliminary assessment of the efficacy, tolerability and safety of a cannabis-based medicine (Sativex) in the treatment of pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology. 2006;45(1):50-52.
 Philpott HT, O'Brien M, McDougall JJ. Attenuation of early phase inflammation by cannabidiol prevents pain and nerve damage in rat osteoarthritis. Pain 2017;158(12):2442-2451.
 Hammell DC, Zhang LP, Ma F, Abshire SM, McIlwrath SL. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. European journal of pain. 2016;20(6):936-948.
 Vela J. CBS Treatment in Hand Osteoarthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis. (NordCAN). 2018; Accessed Nov 27, 2018.