In part 3 of this 3-part series, we examine CBD’s role in treating arthritis.
In parts 2 and 3 of our series on bone disease, we’ve looked at how CBD can heal fractures, promote bone growth and can potentially be an effective treatment for osteoporosis, but what else can it do?
Another area in which researchers are very excited about CBD’s potential for healing is in patients with arthritis.
Arthritis is a very common condition that refers to any type of pain and/or inflammation in joints. According to the Arthritis Foundation:
“People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older.
Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well as the joints.”
Although there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, the most common one affects 20 million people in the U.S. alone. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time, and it’s called osteoarthritis.
CBD provides powerful pain relief for osteoarthritis
Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine. Because there is no cure, doctors recommend that patients stay active and maintain a healthy body weight to slow the progression of the disease.
Of course for people who have progressed to moderate or late stage osteoarthritis, treatment is needed to relieve pain and decrease swelling and inflammation.
Traditional treatment for osteoarthritis begins with painkillers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which get progressively stronger as the condition worsens. Different types of physical therapy and occupational therapy are also employed to help strengthen muscles around joints, increase range of motion, and reduce pain.
In more severe cases when drug and therapy treatments no longer work, patients turn to surgical procedures that include cortisone injections, lubrication injections, the realigning of bones, and joint replacement. Unfortunately, no drugs are available to control the progression of the disease and the analgesic treatment with painkillers has restricted efficacy.
But while a cure for osteoarthritis remains elusive, mounting evidence from preclinical studies find that the endocannabinoid system (made up of cannabinoid receptors, binding molecules, and enzymes that work together to maintain homeostasis inside the body) could be a therapeutic target for osteoarthritis pain.
In studies of mice with osteoarthritis, researchers linked the antinociceptive (anti-pain) effects of cannabinoids and the active involvement of the endocannabinoid system in the disease.
They concluded that the distribution of cannabinoid receptors, together with the physiological role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of pain, inflammation and even joint function, point to the “therapeutic potential” for cannabinoids like CBD as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Although only limited clinical evidence was provided, the results looked very promising.
Another common type of arthritis that can potentially be treated with CBD is rheumatoid arthritis.
The game-changing potential for CBD in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects about 1.5 million people in the United States alone. It affects men and women differently with nearly three times more women than men who have the disease. The disease commonly begins to affect women between the ages of 30 to 60 while for men, it often occurs later in life.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. It is a chronic disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and limited motion and function of many joints. While RA can affect any joint, it most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Inflammation sometimes can affect organs as well, for instance, the eyes or lungs.
Because joint damage is irreversible, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is crucial for controlling RA.
Similar to osteoarthritis, drugs are prescribed by doctors when symptoms begin to get problematic. Some medications can help ease symptoms while others are used to slow or stop the course of the disease and to inhibit structural damage. As the disease progresses, patients graduate from NSAIDs for pain and corticosteroids for inflammation to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for slowing the progression of joint damage.
As the effectiveness of DMARDs wear off and the disease advances, doctors prescribe more powerful drugs. One option is biologic response modifiers (or biologics) for inhibiting specific parts of the immune system that fuel inflammation. Another option is janus kinase inhibitors (JAK inhibitors) which block the enzymes JAK1, JAK2, JAK3, and tyrosine kinase 2. This plays a role in the cell-signaling process that leads to the inflammatory and immune responses seen in RA.
Finally, surgery may be needed for people with permanent damage that limits daily function, mobility, and independence. Unfortunately, surgery isn’t always an option and many of the drugs described above have substantial side effects.
Furthermore, costs of medications can range from expensive to astronomical – especially when you consider that some of these drugs will need to be taken for the rest of a patient’s life. For example, JAK inhibitors can cost around $2,000 a month before insurance!
That’s why now more than ever people are looking for alternative treatments for RA – and CBD may be the most promising answer.
CBD for RA
In a study published in 2000 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., researchers tested CBD on mice with collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) which is the most commonly studied autoimmune model of rheumatoid arthritis. CBD was administered after the onset of clinical symptoms, and they discovered that the treatment effectively blocked progression of arthritis and protected joints against severe damage. It was equally effective when administered as an injection or orally.
And building on that, was a study conducted by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British biopharmaceutical company.
In the first ever controlled trial of a cannabis based medicine in RA, a significant analgesic effect was observed and disease activity was significantly suppressed following Sativex treatment. Sativex is the world’s first natural cannabis plant derivative to gain market approval in any country. It contains CBD along with THC.
Sativex was able to produce statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, and quality of sleep, and better scores for the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SF-MPQ) which measures the quality aspect of pain and the 28-joint disease activity score (DAS28) which measure the progress and improvement of RA.
The researchers concluded that, “Whilst the differences are small and variable across the population, they represent benefits of clinical relevance and show the need for more detailed investigation in this indication.”
Arthritis may have met its match
There’s no question that this is an exciting time for arthritis researchers and patients who suffer from the debilitating effects of the disease. Studies using cannabinoids like CBD for treatment have shown immense promise so far.
But there is still a lot of work to be done. There are over 100 different types of arthritis that affect tens of millions of people in the U.S. alone. As the population continues to age, healthcare costs could spiral out of control.
That’s why putting your support behind viable alternatives to traditional medicine like CBD will be critical in minimizing the future burden on our next generation. Let’s work together and make our future a better place!
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