Here’s How CBD Oil May Help Relieve Arthritis Pain

By Kristina Parren
Rosalind Chang, Unsplash

Chronic pain and inflammation are a significant concern for those with arthritis. An estimated 54.4 million US adults have a form of arthritis, according to the CDC, which means that many Americans are living with pain.

As medical marijuana, and in turn, CBD oil, become legal in more states, Americans with arthritis are turning to natural remedies to treat their arthritis. This is especially true for older citizens. In the state of Colorado where cannabis and CBD are legal, more than 36 percent of patients on the medical marijuana registry are over 50 years old. This includes CBD for arthritis.

For relief without the psychoactive effects of marijuana, CBD oil is an alternative. CBD, or Cannabidiol, is derived from both the cannabis and hemp plant. It is currently being studied for its effects on inflammation and joint pain.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition characterized by the degeneration of the body’s joints, such as those found in the knees, hips, fingers, etc. The result is painful and difficult movement.

There are many types of arthritis, but the most common forms are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout and even fibromyalgia. We’ll focus on these more common forms and how CBD affects each one.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is caused by wear and tear of joint cartilage between bones. Injury, exercise and obesity can also cause thinning of this cartilage.

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Joint pain (e.g. the hands, hips, knees, lower back or neck)
  • Pain after exercise
  • Pain relating to weather

Osteoarthritis is currently treated with:

  • Analgesics
  • Topical creams
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is different from osteoarthritis in that it is an autoimmune disease. In other words, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues surrounding the joints. It affects 1.5 million Americans, but especially women.

RA is similar to psoriatic arthritis, in which people with psoriasis—an autoimmune skin condition—are more likely to develop arthritis.

Symptoms of RA include:

  • Warm or swollen joints
  • Symmetrical swelling on both sides of the body
  • Fatigue
  • Fevers
  • Stiffness after rest
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia

RA is currently treated with:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery


Gout, unfortunately, is considered to be the most painful form of arthritis due to its acute flare-ups. is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. Uric acid is a byproduct of certain foods after they are broken down in the body. Foods are a major trigger for gout attacks.

Symptoms of gout include:

  • Sudden attacks of severe pain
  • Pain often in the foot, knee, ankle or toe
  • Redness
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling

Gout is currently treated with:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Limited alcohol intake

What About Fibromyalgia? Is it Arthritis?

Though fibromyalgia does not cause joint damage, its symptoms are similar to that of rheumatoid arthritis. For this reason, it is often put under the umbrella of arthritis. However, it is likely the cause of trauma, whether physical or psychological.

Fibromyalgia affects the way that the brain interprets pain signals, and alongside musculoskeletal pain, people suffering from the condition also experience headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and anxiety.

CBD oil may have positive effects on many of these symptoms. We included fibromyalgia due to its chronic pain symptoms, but CBD may also relieve anxiety and IBS for fibromyalgia patients.

How Does Cannabidiol Work?

There is still much research to be done on CBD’s health benefits, and many researchers are still unclear exactly how and to what extent CBD affects pain and other symptoms. There are two arguments, however.

  1. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that moderates our sleep, mood and, of course, pain. Research indicates that cannabidiol acts on serotonin 5-HT1A receptors, enhancing serotonin levels and better regulating pain.
  2. Studies suggest that CBD stimulates the body’s own endocannabinoid system, which contains receptors that bind to cannabinoids like THC. CBD does not affect the same receptors as marijuana or THC, the cannabinoid that creates the famed “high.” CBD, however, might affect the endocannabinoid system by inhibiting the body’s ability to absorb anandamide, a THC-binding receptor, thereby increasing its levels in the blood to reduce pain.

The Effects of CBD Oil for Arthritis

CBD oil, specifically transdermal CBD gel, was shown to reduce joint swelling in rats after applying 0.6-6.2 mg doses over the course of four days. The rats’ exploratory behavior was not compromised by the study, meaning no psychoactive effects took place. This could be important for human patients who want to reduce inflammation without getting a high.

A 2017 study on Wistar rats with osteoarthritis also found that local application of CBD blocked arthritic pain and prevented later pain and nerve damage in the affected joints.

A 2018 study on CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and spinal cord found CBD treatments to have immunosuppressive properties for rats with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS, like rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disease, and inflammation can damage the spine. The treatment’s anti-inflammatory response could have implications for rheumatoid arthritis.

While more studies must be carried out on humans, other animal studies are also showing great promise. A study on dogs with osteoarthritis concluded that 2.0 mg of CBD oil, twice each day, reduced joint pain.

Currently, a clinical trial is being carried out on a cannabidiol tablets to test their efficacy on hand osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis in human patients. As more research is completed, there will be more conclusive findings for how well CBD decreases arthritic pain.

How to Apply CBD for Arthritis and What You Need to Know

CBD oil has many applications, including oral tablets, and topical creams and even juices. Current studies are examining the efficacy of oral versus transdermal CBD treatments, and both have their advantages and drawbacks.

While oral tablets allow for more uniformed doses, transdermal creams and nasal sprays absorb cannabidiol directly into the bloodstream. This allows the treatment to bypass the metabolism and be more effective, while also preventing stomach and liver issues. In fact, only 20 percent of the drug is absorbed orally due to its hydrophobic nature.

How Much CBD is Recommended for Arthritis?

Daniel Clauw, MD and professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, has a few tips for taking CBD.

  • Start with low doses.
  • Start with CBD-only products.
  • Use CBD at night.
  • Take caution when buying CBD products to make sure they do not contain harmful ingredients or unwanted THC.

Most importantly, before taking CBD, whether in oral or transdermal form, you should always consult with your regular physician. Only your physician can prescribe treatment or recommend the correct dosage for you.

Is CBD Safe?

CBD is has few side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Mood changes

CBD, however, is not addictive. Therefore, cannabidiol for arthritis is widely considered a safe alternative to addictive opioids and pain medications. But, you should be aware of the ingredients in CBD products you intend to purchase. Some products may contain differing levels of CBD and even THC.

Is CBD Legal?

CBD for arthritis is not currently legal on the federal level. Its legality and availability differs by state. Luckily, the federal government is working towards legalization of cannabidiol, and the FDA is working towards regulations to keep the industry safe for consumers.

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