By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
The Arthritis Foundation has become the first major patient advocacy group to release guidelines on the use of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat arthritis pain.
About 54 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis. According to a recent national survey, 79 percent of arthritis patients are currently using CBD, have tried it in the past, or are considering it.
CBD infused products – from edibles to lotions to beverages -- are rapidly going mainstream, even though there is little scientific evidence to support their use. There has also been little guidance for consumers on what products to use or in what doses — until now.
“We are intrigued by the potential of CBD to help people find pain relief and are on record urging the FDA to expedite the study and regulation of these products,” the Arthritis Ffoundation said in a statement.
“While currently there is limited scientific evidence about CBD’s ability to help ease arthritis symptoms, and no universal quality standards or regulations exist, we have listened to our constituents and consulted with leading experts to develop these general recommendations for adults who are interested in trying CBD.”
CBD is largely extracted from a hemp, a marijuana strain that has only trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient that makes people high.
"Millions of people in the U.S. are likely trying to use cannabinoids to treat pain, and many are doing this in ways that might cause more harm than good, especially when they use high doses of THC," said Daniel Clauw, MD, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan who was one of the experts the foundation consulted.
"It's important that the Arthritis Foundation has taken a stand on CBD,” Clauw said in a statement. “Right now, it appears to be fairly safe and might help certain types of pain. It's far better to give this guidance, even if preliminary, because otherwise people will have no guidance whatsoever."
The new guideline is largely cautionary and does not explicitly recommend CBD as a treatment, stating only that it “may help” with arthritis-related symptoms such as pain, insomnia and anxiety.
When taken in moderate doses, experts say CBD has no major safety issues, although it may interact with some drugs commonly taken for arthritis, such as naproxen (Aleve), celecoxib (Celebrex), tramadol (Ultram), gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica) and some antidepressants.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends taking CBD in oral sprays or tinctures so the liquid can be taken under the tongue and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
Experts say a “go slow” approach is best, starting with a few drops twice a day and increasing the dose gradually over a period of weeks until an effective dose is reached.
The guideline strongly discourages inhaling or vaping CBD because of the risk of respiratory problems. It also discourages taking CBD in edibles, such as gummies and cookies, because the dosing is unreliable. Experts say the effectiveness of topical lotions and creams with CBD is unclear because they often contain other ingredients.
Other key takeaways from the guideline:
CBD should never be used to replace disease-modifying drugs that help prevent permanent joint damage in inflammatory types of arthritis.
CBD use should be discussed with your doctor in advance, with follow-up evaluations every three months or so.
Buy from a reputable CBD company that has each batch tested for purity, potency and safety by an independent laboratory and provides a certificate of analysis.
Unlike prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the manufacturing process for CBD products is not subject to FDA review, and there has been no FDA evaluation of their effectiveness, proper dosage, how they could interact with drugs, or whether they have side effects.
The Federal Trade Commission recently warned companies that make CBD products to stop making unsubstantiated claims that cannabidiol can be used to treat arthritis and other chronic pain conditions.