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Chronic disabling pain, discomfort in daily movements… Osteoarthritis is a common disease, which can have serious consequences on the quality of life. This pathology leads to the progressive degradation of the cartilage that lines the bone ends of a joint and allows them to slide over each other without creating friction. The more the cartilage degrades, the more painful the contact between the two bones becomes when movement is performed. This destruction extends to all cartilage structures (bone and synovial tissue) and is characterized by its irreversibility. The resulting pain can be moderate and chronic (with daily discomfort), or acute and of short duration due to inflammation of the joint. It is this combination of pain and inflammation that suggests that the use of CBD on osteoarthritis could be effective – but we will come back to this. Age is a risk factor, with the prevalence of the disease increasing with age (it affects 65% of people over 65, and 80% of people over 80). There are others:

  • Excessive pressure on the joints due to excess weight or intense physical activity practiced over a long period of time ;
  • Joint diseases (such as chondrocalcinosis, osteonecrosis or rheumatoid arthritis);
  • Natural fragility of cartilage;
  • Anatomical anomalies;
  • Sequelae of bone and joint trauma;
  • Heredity (this is especially true for osteoarthritis of the hands).

Conventional treatments are limited to relieving pain, with significant side effects: taking analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or even corticoid infiltrations. In case of severe disability, a prosthesis is recommended to replace the diseased joint. Patients tend to turn to alternative solutions, such as cannabidiol. So, what exactly would be the effects of CBD on osteoarthritis?

CBD and osteoarthritis: the role of cannabidiol in the symptomatic treatment of osteoarthritis

By consulting the scientific literature reporting on the links between CBD and osteoarthritis, we discover three main axes:

The role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the management of rheumatic pain. The ECS includes cannabinoid receptors found in the central and peripheral nervous system (CB1) and in immune system cells (CB2). This connection to rheumatic pain is the subject of a 2014 review of medical studies, which concludes with the statement, “A growing body of evidence from preclinical studies [conducted in animals] supports the value of the endocannabinoid system as a therapeutic target for rheumatic pain.”

The efficacy of cannabidiol on chronic and inflammatory pain in general, as reported in a 2008 review, including those with a joint origin such as osteoarthritis, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The ability of cannabidiol to relieve joint and inflammatory pain specifically related to osteoarthritis. Two preclinical studies, conducted on rats, tend to demonstrate this action of CBD on osteoarthritis: a 2016 study stating that “the use of CBD shows potential in the effective treatment of symptoms related to osteoarthritis.” And a 2017 study concluding that in addition to decreasing pain, CBD’s effect on OA could be preventative – warding off the development of joint disease. Read this Observer CBD post for more info on its effects on arthritis.

Given the scarcity of studies and the limitations applicable to those that do exist (consideration of pain in general; preclinical tests only; use, in certain scenarios, of a cannabinoid treatment mixing CBD and THC…), it is necessary to take these results with a grain of salt. They are nevertheless encouraging as to the links between CBD and osteoarthritis, and suggest that cannabidiol could one day be used for the benefit of patients.

Paul T. Linder

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