CBD for Rheumatoid Arthritis: How It Works

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Are you wondering if CBD for rheumatoid arthritis actually works? Well, that is a difficult question to answer, although there has been a decent amount of research suggesting that it very well might be able to assist. In fact, some of the research has suggested that rather than just treating the symptoms, CBD may actually be able to help prevent RA altogether.

In fact, some of the research has suggested that rather than just treating the symptoms, CBD may actually be able to help prevent RA altogether.

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) has long since been known to work as a potentially effective treatment for pain related to swelling and inflammation. In fact, as we’ll discuss in this article, several studies have even been carried out specifically showcasing the drug’s potential therapeutic benefits for RA-related pain.

If you’ve been waiting for a safe, all-natural, effective replacement for your prescription RA pain medications, CBD products just might be the treatment option you’ve been looking for.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Is It, What Causes It, and Who’s at Risk?

rheumatoid arthritis

As we have already mentioned, RA is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, severe inflammation, and loss of function in the joints.

In healthy individuals, proper joint functioning relies on a layer of connective tissue called the synovium. The synovium produces a lubricating substance 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:

SexWomen are more than three times likelier to develop RA than men
GeneticsThe presence of specific genes may cause increased susceptibility to environmental factors that trigger the onset of the disease
AgePeople between the ages of 40 and 60 are most at risk for initial onset
ObesityOverweight 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. However, 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 of 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 exact mechanism 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.

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 the 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

One of the exciting things about CBD as an emerging RA treatment is the fact that it’s been suggested to have a 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 the development of the disease.

In a recent study, however, CBD was shown 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 the 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 shown to be a viable treatment option for some RA sufferers and is even the reason why it has allowed a few 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 five weeks on 58 RA patients. Thirty-one 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.

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 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 substance far cheaper than most prescription medications, but given the fact that it is a 100% natural extract of the cannabis plant, it is also probably a safer option that produces far fewer adverse 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 products have hardly any traces of the intoxicating ingredient – some of the only side effects it has shown to produce is mild fatigue, dizziness, and irritability.

The Bottom Line: CBD for Rheumatoid Arthritis

As scientific research has more than capably suggested, CBD for rheumatoid arthritis may very well prove in the coming years to be a viable treatment option for the disease. Of course, it is not yet an FDA-approved medicine for this condition, and it should not be treated as such. CBD for arthritis certainly should not be misunderstood as a cure for the disease. However, quality research has suggested that it may provide substantial benefits.

CBD for arthritis certainly should not be misunderstood as a cure for the disease. However, quality research has suggested that it may provide substantial benefits.

As such, 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, topicals, and other products 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 before starting your treatment.

For those opting to utilize CBD for their arthritis, CBD topicals may be the best option because these products are applied directly onto the skin to targeted areas where pain or discomfort might be localized. Compared with CBD oil tinctures, this direct approach could be more suitable for some.

In essence, it is vital to understand the pathophysiology behind diseases; thus placing emphasis on prevention. Utilizing CBD has the potential to be the safest approach to the prevention of worsening rheumatoid arthritis, without unwanted side effects from DMARDs or high concentration THC.

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