We all have that one aunt or uncle who is the first one to predict a rainstorm because their knee is aching. Barometric pressure must be dropping, they say with a grimace. While the connection between wet weather and sore joints has repeatedly been debunked, there’s no doubting the validity of the pain that rheumatoid arthritis can cause.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1.5 million people in the United States have the autoimmune disease which causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack its own joints. In turn, that creates a collection of inflammation, swelling, and debilitating pain.
While treatment for rheumatoid arthritis ranges from over-the-counter pain relievers in mild cases to surgery for those that are extreme, one remedy more and more sufferers are turning to is using cannabidiol (CBD). And for good reason—CBD most often binds with the body’s CB2 receptor, which directly influences our immune system.
Unfortunately, there’s no real way to stave off rheumatoid arthritis. While anyone can get it, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases says rheumatoid arthritis is more common in older people and that women are more likely to get it than men.
The concept of our own body attacking itself sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi flick, and even worse, researchers aren’t exactly sure why it happens in this case. The prevailing thought is that genes, hormones, and even environmental factors are involved, but science has yet to pinpoint an exact cause.
It’s also challenging to diagnose since there’s not a single test available like other autoimmune diseases. Symptoms can take years to develop, and when they do show up, they often present in the same fashion as other joint diseases. All of these factors make rheumatoid arthritis incredibly hard to spot and even harder to treat.
People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis are often desperate to find a therapy that helps with the symptoms involved with the disease. Imagine waking up with your body racked with pain and stiffness for 30 to 60 minutes every morning, and after every time you sit to rest.
And just when you think the pain is gone, you notice swelling and pain in other joints like your wrists, shoulders, and elbows—on both sides. All the while, you’re running a fever, feel exhausted, and have low energy. This is the life of someone with rheumatoid arthritis, and it can go on like this for years.
Though it was cautious in its praise, the Arthritis Foundation did tout CBD as a potential way to address rheumatoid arthritis pain. It’s understandable why a national advocacy group who fights for life-changing resources would appear guarded before anointing CBD as the ultimate answer: Research on CBD’s effect on arthritis-related conditions has thus far only taken place with animals. But what is out there looks extremely promising.
Take this study on rats from 2016 that concluded that “topical CBD has potential as effective treatment of arthritic symptomology.” Further, researchers believed the administration of CBD to have long-lasting therapeutic effects. Another rat study found that atypical receptors beyond just the CB2 might be beneficial in treating inflammatory pain with cannabinoids.
As a reminder, CBD is one of more than 100 cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. These chemical compounds are able to influence our bodies through the endocannabinoid system, which aims to ensure critical internal functions remain level and balanced.
Before beginning to explore how you want to use CBD, we always suggest you have a conversation with your doctor to discuss your goals, any existing medications you’re taking, and whether they feel it’s right for you. If they do sign-off on treatment, you might be surprised to know that CBD comes with a level of versatility that extends far beyond the scope of medications you may have already tried for rheumatoid arthritis.
For instance, there are capsules that are easy to take and small in size. There are also CBD gummies that taste great but turn some people off because of the added sugar included. As you saw in the research, topical CBD creams are thought to be a good option for people looking to relieve pain. You’ll also find newer infusions that include CBD gum and CBD tea.
But two of the most popular and most efficient ways to dose CBD are sublingually with tinctures and by vaping. Tinctures are CBD-infused liquids that you take under the tongue with the help of a dropper, which makes it very easy to select the right amount and to know exactly how much you’re taking. Vaping is akin to using an E-cigarette, requiring a device like a vape pen to heat the CBD-infused juice, causing the oil to evaporate into vapor.
So, why are tinctures and vapes more efficient than other methods? It’s all about bioavailability. This term is how we describe the amount of the compound that makes it into the circulatory system without the body stripping some of its effectiveness away.
Vaping has the highest bioavailability—about 40%—because inhaling the CBD allows for direct entry into the bloodstream. In our rating of CBD products by bioavailability, tinctures ranked second with as high as 35%. Similar to vaping, the path to the bloodstream with this method is much easier than with an edible or a pill because it does not have to pass through the digestive system.
It’s also important to remember that CBD is non-intoxicating and does not result in the user feeling a euphoric “high” like they might when using tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC.
As with most things related to CBD, it’s probably a little early to crown it as the future of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. And you should use it in lockstep with other medications you’re already taking for the condition—at least for now. But if you’re suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and your doctor acknowledges that it won’t interfere with your existing medications, it’s certainly worth a try. We do offer up guidance on how much CBD to take, but the truth is that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for you. In any event, we always suggest you start slow and increase your dose in small amounts until you find an amount that meets your needs.